Celtic and Rangers are right to feel aggrieved on crowd numbers – Scottish football fans deserve better

After the season that both Rangers and St Johnstone had last term, it was a privilege last week to see the Scottish Premiership duo reunited with a small number of their supporters. 

I firstly took in Saints vs Preston at McDiarmid Park where 1,000 lucky season ticket holders were granted access to McDiarmid Park for the match. 

After the Perth club recorded the most successful season in their history by landing a historic cup double, it was quite a moment as Callum Davidson and his players took their loyal support’s acclaim both before and after the 90 minutes of football

Similar feelings of emotion were witnessed on Saturday as Rangers went toe to toe with Arsenal in a bounce game at Ibrox. 

This time 2,000 supporters were allowed in and again there was an almighty buzz from the lucky ones inside the stadium who were witnessing their team playing in the flesh for the first time in 16 months. 

Anyone with an interest in Scottish football should be appreciative that the turnstiles are clicking once more after a season in the cold – but there is still a sense of disappointment due to the miniscule numbers being admitted. 

Celtic had hoped to welcome a large attendance for their crucial Champions League qualifier against Midtjylland on Tuesday, but instead they will house just 9,000 inside the 60,411 capacity Celtic Park. 

Current rules state outdoor events can be held in front of 500 spectators, but organisers can apply to have up to 2,000, which Celtic secured for their friendly against Preston on Saturday. 

Rules from Monday, as Scotland enters level 0, will allow organisers to host 2,000 people as standard at outdoor events but applications can be made to local authorities to accommodate larger crowds. 

Celtic were informed of the capacity restrictions following a meeting with the local safety advisory group, which is made up of representatives from Glasgow City Council, the emergency services and building regulators. 

A statement expressed the club’s disappointment, reading: “Clearly, we have worked tirelessly in this area, we had pushed for many more fans to be given access and of course we are disappointed that more supporters will not be able to attend. 

“However, we really look forward to welcoming our fans for the match on Tuesday, as we do on Saturday when we meet Preston North End. We can assure our supporters we will be doing all we can to work closely with the relevant authorities and welcome our fans back in even greater numbers in the coming weeks.” 

Rangers also made their feelings known after their application to welcome more than 2,000 supporters in for the Arsenal game was turned down.  

They said: “Rangers are disappointed at the small number of supporters being granted access given the precedent which was set at the Euro 2020 matches at Hampden Park as well as at other sporting events in Scotland, and the time it has taken to have the number of supporters confirmed by the Scottish Government.”  

It is hard to disagree with the concerns of Scotland’s big two, especially after Murrayfield housed a Lions rugby match against Japan earlier this month where 16,500 spectators were granted access. 

At first I thought this must have been down to Edinburgh Coronavirus case figures, but Tynecastle, which is a stone’s throw away from the home of Scottish Rugby, was only permitted to house 2,000 fans for Hearts’ League Cup match against Cove Rangers. This is just 10 per cent of the capacity, compared to the 25 per cent attending the rugby. 

I was lucky enough to take in Scotland’s final Euro 2020 match this summer against Croatia and the atmosphere was magnificent despite there only being 12,000 inside the 50,000 capacity of Hampden Park.  

Again, this was around 25 per cent, but it felt like Hampden was full at times, especially during the anthems and when Callum McGregor gave the entire country that glimpse of hope. 

The whole set up at the national stadium was exemplary and for the best part everyone stuck to the rules, barring a few celebrations for Scotland’s goal.  

One disappointment was that there was no refreshments available other than free cups of water. This again was in contrast to the rugby where Lions supporters were not only permitted to buy food and drink, but there was also alcohol on sale. 

Scottish football may be a while away from welcoming alcohol back into grounds but I am sure the Tartan Army could have been trusted with a pie and cup of Irn Bru at half-time.  

Safety and the health of everybody in attendance must come first, but at the moment and with regard to stadium return, it feels as though the Scottish game at club level is being harshly treated. 

Current rules being introduced today mean lower league clubs with smaller all seater stadiums can welcome 2,000 into their stadiums the same as clubs with larger stadia, such as Celtic and Rangers. 

There is no logic to these rules as was the case at Ibrox on Saturday. The 2,000 lucky ones were crammed into one stand, with the other three lying depressingly empty. 

Common sense must come into play and each stadium must be examined on a case-by-case basis. Seeing Wembley at close to full capacity down south for the Euros this summer has whetted the appetite of the Scottish game and there is no reason why we can’t follow suit in the near future. 

Scottish football fans deserve to be treated with the equity that others have received before them.

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992