The Scottish Football Association and Scottish Professional Football League have said that they will work to support their clubs after what was described as a “hammer blow” decision to limits fans in grounds for upcoming fixtures.
The First Minister announced on Tuesday that crowds at all large-scale events would be limited to 500 fans from Boxing Day for “up to three weeks”, with physical distancing also in place.
That decision affects the busiest spell in the Premiership fixture list, with teams playing on Boxing Day and in midweek before a full card of fixtures early in the new year, including the Old Firm derby between Celtic and Rangers on January 2, and the Edinburgh derby a day later, where Hearts take on Hibs.
Scottish football’s Joint Response Group, which was set up by the Scottish FA and SPFL at the start of the pandemic, to assess the impact of the decision and to look at possible support.
The group expressed sympathy with clubs and supporters after hearing the news, and said that it was settign up urgent consultations to speak to clubs, but had already begun speaking to the government about compensation for clubs’ loss of income.
A statement detailed the work done throughout the pandemic to make stadia safe for fans, and pointed to the introduction of spot checks for vaccine certificates, and a drive to ask fans to test before travelling.
Rod Petrie, Joint Response Group chair said: “Today’s announcement is a source of disappointment to hundreds of thousands of fans across the country, for whom attending football matches during the festive season has been a tradition spanning generations.
“None the less, public health remains a priority for everyone in society as well as a responsibility for industries across the country, including football. The JRG exists to be the conduit between the national game and the Scottish Government throughout the pandemic and will continue to work with our members to ensure a seamless implementation of the new restrictions, whilst working on their behalf to ensure compensation for lost revenue via the UK and Scottish Government’s latest COVID relief fund.”
Neil Doncaster, SPFL chief executive said: “Today’s news will be a hammer blow to clubs and fans across the country, who simply could not have done more to mitigate the impact of the ongoing pandemic. Despite the enormous financial impact, the 42 clubs have provided an invaluable source of reassurance, support and relief from the day-to-day impact of COVID-19 in communities throughout Scotland and they will continue
to do so.
“Our clubs have adapted quickly and effectively to previous restrictions, and we will work with them in implementing the guidance from today’s announcement in the coming days.”
Clubs had also made their feelings known about the move. Celtic have asked the SPFL to consider moving the winter break forward from January 4 to this weekend, in order to cover the restrictions and give the best chance of having supporters watch games in person.
That plan is supported by Motherwell, whose chief executive Alan Burrows said: “We should start the winter break now, and rearrange these matches when all fans have a chance to attend at a later date when hopefully restrictions are eased.
“That way we increase the likelihood (from zero, currently) that fans can watch the games live, all matches are played under the same parameters and clubs can commercialise the fixtures in line with current budgets.
“During that time, we put our facilities and platform at the disposal of the local health authorities to ensure as many booster vaccinations can be administered as possible.”
Aberdeen highlighted the financial impact of virtually empty grounds. A statement read: “Matches at Pittodrie over the festive period are traditionally very well attended and are a vital source of revenue for the club, particularly given the challenges it has already faced in the previous two years.
“These latest restrictions are likely to cost the club up to half a million pounds.
“Whilst the safety of our supporters – and those in our wider community – are of uppermost importance, the news this afternoon is a huge blow to all at Aberdeen FC and clubs across Scotland.
“We are working hard behind the scenes with other clubs and the SPFL to navigate these new restrictions and will provide further clarity to supporters and corporate clients as soon as practically possible.”