HE has been at the forefront of Scottish football’s battle with the Covid-19 pandemic for over 14 months now and is genuinely hopeful that, at long last, there is a glimmer of light on the horizon.

Certainly, he is optimistic there will be a 12,000-strong crowd in attendance as planned when Scotland take to the field in their opening Euro 2020 group match against the Czech Republic at Hampden on June 14.

And he envisages the national game having an important role to play in lifting the morale of the country as it emerges from what has been an unprecedented crisis.

Yet, Ian Maxwell, the SFA chief executive and a prominent member of the Joint Response Group, has admitted he can still offer clubs in this country no guarantees how many fans will be allowed through turnstiles when the new season gets underway in August.

“Are we out of the woods yet?” said Maxwell as he spoke to the media at the launch of the SFA strategic plan The Power of Football yesterday. “I hope we’re getting there, I genuinely do. The vaccination roll-out is going to help. Discussions are ongoing. Hopefully we are coming out of the other side.

“The decision to let 12,000 fans in (to Euro 2020 matches at Hampden this summer) was made when Scotland was still in the pandemic so nothing has changed actually. 

“So until we are told otherwise we are absolutely continuing full steam ahead and looking to 12,000 fans being able to cheer on the team and being able to use the power that that generates to help football inspire the nation. 

“It has been a ‘special case’ as part of the gateway process. The Scottish government are looking at the Euros as part of getting the events industry back, no doubt about that. We are absolutely committed to fans being in the stadium for the game. Until we are told otherwise there will be spectators in the stadium.”

Hampden getting the green light to let in such a large number of fans has given Scottish clubs wrestling with the financial implications of the Covid-19 outbreak hope that they will have sizeable crowds at their matches again next term.

However, Maxwell knows that nothing is simple when it comes to the pandemic and stressed the imminent 2m physical distancing review will be important to what can be done going forward. 

Asked how many fans will be allowed inside grounds next season, Maxwell said: “I have absolutely no idea. It would be great to say to clubs when next season’s leagues start on August 1 that you are going to have x or y and you can budget accordingly. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet and when we’ll get to that point, we don’t know.

“Clubs are having to be fluent. To be fair to the clubs we said we wanted to come out of the pandemic with the same number of clubs we had when we went into it. We’ve done that and that’s by and large down to the clubs.

“Obviously, there was a bit of financial support from the government, which helped, but they have done really, really well in terms of managing budgets and navigating their way through what has been an incredibly difficult period.

“The review of 2m distancing, the outcome of that, will definitely help get things a bit more structured so fans can understand exactly when they can get into games?”  

Seeing huge crowds attend matches in England – the FA Cup final between Leicester City and Chelsea at Wembley earlier this month was watched by 21,000 fans – has simply increased the exasperation felt by many Scottish clubs and supporters.

But Maxwell said: “We have been different from England throughout this whole process. The decisions our government have made have been different and we have done things to a different timescale.

“That’s been a government decision, we’ve had no influence in terms of when they make the decisions we just have to make sure we are informed when they are and we know the impact they will have. 

“On one hand it’s frustrating seeing the numbers down south, but on the other hand it is encouraging because your logic is if they are getting spectators in then hopefully we are not that far behind in similar sort of numbers.”

The SFA have certainly not been immune to the impact of the pandemic.

“I think we are about £6 million down, like for like on our last normal year,” said Maxwell.

“The vast majority of that is gate receipts. There is very little of our income that is variable, only really gate receipts around international matches and Scottish Cup ties are the big unknowns. So from a turnover perspective we are £6m down and obviously that has an impact.

“We didn’t reduce any distributions to the clubs. We sustained them at the level we should have done, but obviously that means we have financial challenges to deal with. And we’ve done that.

“As a business we have come out in quite a decent place, I think we are in quite a strong place to drive the game forward. But it has definitely been a real challenge.” 

Senior Holyrood officials have been scathing about fans breaching lockdown restrictions this season to protest outside Parkhead and celebrate outside Ibrox and in Glasgow. But Maxwell believes politicians understand the importance of football to the country. He is confident it can be used as a force for good. 

"With everything that has gone on over the past year or so, football has been down the priority list,” he said. “But coming out the other side, I don't think you can underestimate the part that football can play in getting the country back to some semblance of normality, whether it's watching games, playing football, coaching or volunteering.

"We had a 'Football Saved My Life' programme previously and those were examples of people who are still here because football is here and it gave them an opportunity. We don't highlight that nearly as much as we should do.

"Scottish football needs to stop tearing itself apart to a degree. We are very good at focusing on the negatives. The focus always seems to be on the negative when there are so many stories of individuals around the country whom football has had such a positive impact on.”