Is Scotland ready to open up its stadiums to fans once more?

Wembley will be filled with 60,000 screaming fans this Sunday for the Euro 2020 final between Italy and England after weeks of increased attendances.

But in Scotland, this weekend signifies a monumental milestone as stadiums across the country get the green light to open their doors and set the turnstiles clicking again.

With the Scottish League Cup offering the first widespread look at supporters returning to domestic football for 16 months, we look to see if Scotland is ready for a giant leap towards normality.


How long has it been?


You have to go back to 12 March 2020 for the last time an unrestricted crowd was allowed into a Scottish football ground. Rangers lost 3-1 to Bayer Leverkusen that night in front of 47,494 fans. Just over 12 hours later the shutters went up across the country.

Since then, there have only been fleeting flickers of light for fans. A small handful of test events took place last campaign, the maximum number of 500 sparsely spread across vast oceans of empty plastic seats to watch their teams. The same applied for some SPFL play-off matches, too.

In May, the Scottish FA applied to the Scottish Government to have 2000 inside Hampden for St Johnstone's triumph over Hibernian, only for an attendance of 600 to be granted. Just days before the showpiece, a spike in Covid-19 cases caused the doors to slam shut again.

However, around 12,000 fans with face masks were permitted inside the national stadium across June for four Euro 2020 matches as Scotland’s return to the big stage, erm, ended a bit too soon.

“That was important for the nation,” said Prof Denis Kinane, an infection and immunity specialist and founder of Cignpost, the firm used by many clubs within Scotland for their Covid-19 testing.

“Stadia like Hampden, which is massively open, are pretty good. I’m looking forward to gradually increasing the numbers, but we have to continually remind people they have a duty of responsibility. Everyone has to think that way.”


So what are the restrictions now and when will stadiums be full?


Right, this is where it starts to get a bit confusing.

It all really depends on which Scottish Government level you find yourself in. A fair chunk of the population, including Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Ayrshire and Lanarkshire, are in level two, which means 500 fans can be seated or 250 standing at an outdoor event.

For teams such as Aberdeen who are in level one, that figure can be doubled while any team in level 0 – in which currently no professional team is located – would have been able to get 2,000 seated supporters in.

The added extra to this is that clubs have been able to apply for an increased attendance to their local authority. Aberdeen, for example, have asked for 8200 supporters to be allowed into Pittodrie up to and including 1 August.

From 19 July, providing Scotland moves to level 0, 2,000 fans can get into grounds everywhere. Again, clubs can ask their local authority to increase this figure.

When will we see full houses again? This really is the big question for so many fans.

Clubs were told earlier this week by the Joint Response Group if Scotland moves beyond level 0 on 9 August, it is “hoped” all limits on events and football matches will be lifted. This is far from being set in stone, however, with clarity coming from Holyrood on 3 August.

Will things be just as they were 16 months ago? Probably not. You are likely to still have to wear a face mask, with clubs and supporters bound to further measures to keep everyone safe.


Is Scotland ready to open its doors?


Nearly everyone within the game will tell you yes. From fans to chairmen, players to programme sellers, not being able to support your team has been difficult in so many ways.

However, there have been some warning signs to remind us all that Covid is still a part of the game. Already this week, for example, we have seen Ross County shut down their football operations after an outbreak, eventually leading to them forfeiting their match this weekend with Forfar Athletic.

And watching Euro 2020 matches has been blamed for almost 2,000 positive cases in Scotland over the last month. That before it emerged earlier this week Scotland has the highest Covid-19 rate in Europe.

But with more of the public becoming double vaccinated and the death rate slowing drastically as a result, is it now time to ease things open again?

“We’ve got to open the taps slowly,” said Prof Kinane. “We can’t go full blast and take down the measures, and I don’t think we will.

“What is happening is sensible. We are being much more careful but it’s probably right.

“People have got to get back to normal at some point. There’s economic, personal and psychological damage to this whole thing. It’s necessary, but we have to get back to normal some time.

“Any small steps that get us there are good things.”

Original article 09.07.21 on the BBC News website

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