A “positive meeting” has been held over the upcoming Old Firm clash after Scotland’s justice secretary warned the fixture could be postponed.
Thousands of Rangers fans breached coronavirus lockdown rules last weekend as the Light Blues clinched their first top-flight title in ten years, leading to concerns the scenes could be repeated on March 21 at Celtic Park.
Sport minister Mairi Gougeon and justice secretary Humza Yousaf were involved in the fresh talks on Friday alongside representatives from Police Scotland, Glasgow City Council and the two clubs.
Speaking after the meeting, Gougeon said: “This was a positive meeting which we called to address the need for fans to stay at home during the upcoming fixture on March 21.
“The reason we have allowed elite football to proceed is as much for the benefit of supporters as for those working in professional sport.
“Everyone is being deprived of so much right now – and making so many sacrifices – that the ability to watch a football game safely at home on television should be something that people should have the ability to do.
“But a minority cannot be allowed to act irresponsibly. We want to send out a very clear message that all fans must stay at home – there will be opportunities to come together to celebrate safely, collectively in due course.
“Clubs have a leading role to play in reaching out to their supporters and communicating the vital message that fans and supporters need to stay at home. I welcome that both clubs have agreed to reinforce that message.
“We still face a very real threat from the highly transmissible new variant and cannot risk people’s health at this time, when we are at the very cusp of easing some restrictions.”
As well as gathering outside Ibrox Stadium to sing and set off red, white and blue smoke bombs, Rangers fans also congregated in Glasgow’s George Square – leaving memorial benches destroyed and litter strewn across the area.
Police made 28 arrests and seven people were issued with fixed penalty notices or will be reported to the Procurator Fiscal.
Reasons for arrest included assaulting police officers, breaching coronavirus regulations, disorder, use of flares and sectarian breaches of the peace.
Deputy chief constable Malcolm Graham branded the scenes “disgraceful”.
On Friday, Yousaf tweeted that the game would be postponed if there was any police intelligence over fans planning to gather to “square off” against each other.
Following the meeting, he said: “We are grateful to Police Scotland, Glasgow City Council, and Celtic and Rangers football clubs for agreeing to join discussions arranged by the Scottish Government. These were constructive discussions.
“Our collective efforts are very much on ensuring the upcoming fixture between the two clubs is spoken about for events on the pitch, not off.
“We are pleased that the football clubs involved agreed to communicate robust messaging, stating unequivocally, that fans should stay at home.
“However, if police intelligence tells us, despite clear messaging, large groups of fans are going to gather and put public health at risk, we will need to very seriously consider taking action. Powers are open to us on that front.
“We are at the most critical juncture in our fight against the virus and we cannot, and simply will not, tolerate the shameful scenes we witnessed recently.
“We will await to see the action from all partners involved and update parliament next week. Let me reiterate that this meeting was positive and partners engaged very constructively.”
Rangers issued a statement after the meeting, saying the club had agreed to support the ‘stay at home’ message.
The club said: “Rangers would like to reiterate manager Steven Gerrard’s comments from last weekend, for supporters to stay at home and ensure the safety of themselves and others.
“We are cognizant of the ongoing fight against Covid-19 and ask that everyone follows government guidance to stay at home.
“The club will continue to liaise with all agencies as well as a number of supporters.
“We will continue to work to ensure that the club’s message is reiterated over the coming week and will provide further updates in due course.”
Earlier on Friday, Celtic released a statement saying they had been clear about the need for fans to follow the rules throughout the pandemic – a message they would “re-emphasise” ahead of the game.
The club said: “The Scottish Government has already made clear to Celtic that it does not in any way associate the scenes last weekend with Celtic or our supporters.
“Although Celtic and our supporters are desperate to get back to Celtic Park to support the team, the club and our supporters are of course mindful of the risks associated with public gatherings at this important time.
“We have communicated regularly around our fixtures and our supporters have worked with the club responsibly; the celebrations after our historic nine-in-a-row title triumph last summer and after our unprecedented quadruple treble Scottish Cup win in December are two key examples of that.
“We will re-emphasise that message for this fixture as we have done during the season and we are sure that our supporters will work with the club while the restrictions remain in place.”
Chief constable Iain Livingstone added: “I am grateful to both football clubs, Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government for these positive and constructive discussions.
“Discussions will continue in the days ahead to work together with the people of Glasgow, and Scotland, to make sure that public safety is maintained.
“It is vital everybody demonstrates personal and collective responsibility to support the public health imperative.”