ANY football manager, player or referee who is failing to perform at the expected level on match day risks being targeted from the stands with the age-old chant “you don’t know what you’re doing”.

If a fan was walking past Holyrood yesterday afternoon as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the increased Covid-19 restrictions which had been imposed last month for a trial three week period were to be relaxed, they could have been forgiven for breaking into the same cry.

It is certainly welcome news that the cap on gatherings at outdoor events will be lifted from Monday, January 17, and crowds of over 500 will be allowed to go to matches once again.

Clubs across the country should have no difficulties implementing the conditions attached – 1,000 people, or 50 per cent of the attendance if that number is greater, will have to show proof they are fully vaccinated or provide evidence of a negative lateral flow test before gaining entry to a stadium - given how well they have embraced the challenges presented by the pandemic.

The fact that turnstiles up and down the land will be opened once more justifies the decision by the SPFL board to bring the three week winter break forward by a week.

Their member clubs will benefit financially from having thousands, in some cases tens of thousands, of paying customers at games instead of hundreds during a time of great economic uncertainty. 

If host broadcaster Sky Sports and Police Scotland had not been so accommodating when alternative dates for two rounds of Premiership matches were suggested to them last month then the fixture list would have had to remain the same. That would have been devastating to many clubs and could even have resulted in job losses. 

The Old Firm game at Parkhead would have had to go ahead as scheduled on January 2 with just 500 people looking on from the stands instead of 58,000. That would have done little to promote the game in this country to a wider audience or attract outside investment. Particularly at a time when full houses were watching games as normal down south.

But the move, while reason for celebration, does beg some serious questions?  Namely, why were the restrictions imposed in the first place? Could more not have been done to ensure that football was, like other industries, able to continue? Do the Scottish government actually know what they are doing?

Ms Sturgeon and her colleagues have relied on the advice of medical experts throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Most of their decisions in the last two years have stemmed from recommendations they have received.

There was certainly logic behind bringing in the crowd cap as infection rates rose sharply as a result of the Omicron strain.

Cases had increased by 50 per cent – by 161 per cent in the case of those aged between 20 and 24 – at the time so something clearly needed to be done. The pressure that was being placed on the NHS and the emergency services had to be considered fully.

Yes, there is little if any strong evidence to show that people sitting outside watching their team play increases transmission of the virus. But travelling to and from matches on public transport, on packed trains and buses, is another matter.

But why were the latest guidelines not considered in the first place? Could fans not have been asked to choose alternative methods of getting to games? Could the governement not have engaged in more meaningful dialogue with the football authorities and reached an alternative solution instead of plucking a number out of thin air and expecting clubs to get on with it?

Ms Sturgeon insisted as she addressed parliament yesterday that the situation was, while “undoubtedly serious”, less severe than it might have been had the measures not been introduced and stressed there were signs the rate of increase may be slowing down.

But she also revealed there have been 10,392 new cases and a further 16 deaths in the latest 24 hour period. Little of what is being said or done makes sense to a bewildered electorate.

The Covid-19 pandemic is, of course, an unprecedented and complex crisis for our elected representatives to deal with. Lives are at risk and every possible safeguard must be put in place to protect the public no matter what the consequences are for those affected. 

But the government’s sometimes perplexing and often heavy-handed treatment of Scottish football may well prove to be damaging for them politically in future.

At the St Mirren v Celtic game in Paisley last month a group of travelling supporters held up a banner which read: “Open Doors For Cop 26. Closed Doors For Fans. F*** Off SNP”.

It is reasonable to suggest that a sizeable number of them were supporters of independence in the past. When rocker Rod Stewart congratulated Boris Johnson on his general election back in 2019 the next time he turned up at Parkhead he was greeted with a placard which proclaimed: “Tories Not Welcome. F*** off Rod”.

They are, along with followers of their rival clubs, unlikely to back the Conservatives at any point in the future. But they may think twice about supporting the current administration too.