SHOULD First Minister Nicola Sturgeon give the go-ahead to capacity crowds being allowed back inside Scottish football grounds again next week, and hopes are high that she will, then the decision by the SPFL board to bring forward the winter break will be vindicated and then some.

It will mean that two rounds of cinch Premiership fixtures can be played with tens of thousands of fans in attendance instead of just thousands.

The financial benefits for clubs struggling to deal with the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic, to stay afloat even, will be considerable.

The SFA and SPFL Joint Response Group (JRG) have informed Holyrood that capping gatherings at outdoor events is collectively costing their members between £1.5m and £2m in revenue a week.

Those sort of losses amid an already challenging economic climate are simply unsustainable.

It is little wonder the JRG are eager to know how much of the £5m emergency funding that was earmarked for sport in this country when the increased restrictions were introduced last month will come to football and when it will be received.

Will the Scottish government immediately allow Aberdeen, Annan and Arbroath to throw open their turnstiles when the three week circuit breaker, which was brought in due to a sharp rise in Omicron infections, ends on January 17?

It will not look particularly good for the SNP - who have been castigated by fans for imposing a limit on the number of supporters who can cheer on their team while shopping centres, schools, bars and restaurants have been allowed to carry on as before – if they immediately revert back to full houses.

Ms Sturgeon and her colleagues rely on medical experts when making major decisions regarding coronavirus. There are lives at risk so they are duty bound to accept their recommendations. It would be a gross dereliction of their responsibilities as elected representatives if they did not. 

Criticism of more not being done to enable crowds to go to games is certainly justified. Questions about how dangerous having large crowds in stadiums actually is are relevant. But drawing comparisons with other industries as well as more lenient guidelines in other nations is facile.

Still, the public will rightly query what the point in bringing in such draconian measures in the first place was and accuse the government and their advisers of badly mishandling this crisis if crowds suddenly go from 500 to 50,000.


IT is certainly to be hoped that, following weeks of behind-the-scenes discussions between all parties, some sort of workable compromise has been reached and there will at the very least be a relaxation of the protocols.

Many players and pundits questioned the wisdom of bringing the three week shutdown forward due to the fixture list being packed with league games, cup encounters, European ties and international breaks during the first five months of 2022.

However, if the Premiership matches between Hibernian and Celtic, Hearts and St Johnstone, Aberdeen and Rangers, and, of course, Celtic and Rangers go ahead with sizeable numbers in the stands it will have been a worthwhile exercise.

Yet, we will have to wait until May before declaring the move an outright success even if that is the case.

Neil Doncaster, the SPFL chief executive, warned when the decision was made to stop playing after the Boxing Day games that there will be no room to manoeuvre if there are any further postponements in the months ahead. “We've used the two available slots that exist and there simply isn't any more space,” he said.  

Top flight outfits should be able, thanks to the size and strength of their squads, to complete their schedules without any interruptions even if there are Covid-19 outbreaks in their camps. St Mirren and Dundee both cobbled together sides last month and fulfilled their commitments.

But Hibernian were forced to postpone their league matches against Ross County and Livingston back in November because they only had eight available players. If that can happen to the Easter Road club it can happen to any club.

If it does then the SPFL officials responsible for scheduling matches will really be behind the eight ball.

Could there even be a repeat of the chaotic denouement to the 2007/08 campaign when Premier League leaders Rangers were forced to play four times in the space of eight days and ended up being pipped to the title by Celtic? Nothing can be ruled out during these troubled times. 

Motherwell manager Graham Alexander spoke to the media on Thursday and bemoaned the fact that seven players and four members of his coaching staff were currently unavailable as the result of positive tests. It is a similar story in dressing rooms far and wide.

If capacity crowds are given the all clear to watch Premiership matches again it will be a huge stride in the right direction – but there is still a long road ahead and there are likely to be a few bumps to overcome.