Colin Watt with A Celtic State of Mind – Peter Lawwell’s phased return plea can’t fall on deaf ears

The last few days have been great to see the Bhoys return to action; the Adidas kits look great, some of the players have come back looking sharp and some that we didn’t anticipate playing a role in the side, like Patryk Klimala, have come back totally different players. Ismaila Soro seemed to offer something new into the midfield, whilst it was great to see guys like Karamoko Dembele get 90 minutes under the belts; he is a player I would really like to see get more opportunities this season, considering how quickly games will come at us.

One thing, though, that just doesn’t seem right is that we are now only two weeks away from the start of the season and Celtic have no published plans for fans to return. Down south, Boris Johnson has already outlined plans for certain sporting events to return in a phased approach with limited amounts of fans, starting later this month. Now, I’m not sitting suggesting we should listen to and follow everything that Boris Johnson says, the man being a buffoon with plenty of evidence to back up that statement … but Peter Lawwell has championed this for Scotland for weeks now, and for Celtic Park to be used as a host for trial events.

Still, nothing is in place.

Listen to ROGER MITCHELL with A Celtic State of Mind here:

Celtic had hoped that this Saturday’s friendly (initially planned to be against Dundalk, then Derry City, but a new domestic opponent will need to be sourced following both clubs’ inability to travel) would be used for two things, to trial the new ‘Pass to Paradise’ virtual season ticket, and also to trial having a limited number of fans in the ground. However, Jason Leitch and the Scottish Government have not given the approval for this to go ahead; instead, thousands of fans will almost certainly sit inside pubs, socially less than one-metre distance apart. Yes, we understand that the hospitality sector is a massive part of the Scottish economy and it was important as part of the roadmap out of lockdown for pubs, restaurants, hotels and cafes to reopen quickly, but what about sport? Where are the indicative dates for sport and live events and how exactly can it be that an outdoor stadium is less safe than a pub? We’re not asking for things to go back to exactly how they were the last time we were able to go to Celtic Park but it absolutely beggars belief that right now there is no phased approach being considered.

Inside pubs, we are gradually becoming used to temperature-checks, giving our names and addresses, using hand-sanitiser and wearing masks where required. In the Veoila competition over the last few days, we saw almost 5,000 fans in the ground, socially distant with most sticking to the requirement to wear masks and at least all of them bringing their own masks to the ground.

Why couldn’t this be adopted in Scottish football? There are teams in the lower leagues with ground capacity of around 8000 who regularly draw crowds of 750 or less; you’re not telling me there isn’t a way to social distance in that capacity? And has anyone actually though about the economic impact on the country to not having these sporting events going on? It’s not just the teams; it’s the staff, the transportation network, the bus companies, the burger vans, right down to your flag and hat sellers.

A study by the Fraser of Allander Institute released in April this year, showed that the SPFL alone is responsible for somewhere in the region of £220m – £440m of Scotland’s GDP or the equivalent of 9,300 full-time jobs. Yes, the clubs have received support from the Government furlough scheme, but as of 1 August, they will be asked to pay towards that scheme, without the guarantee of a starting date when fans can return back into the grounds! In the Premiership alone, 43% of clubs’ revenue comes from ticket sales. This may be made worse over the coming weeks if the SFA arbitration panel awards Hearts and Partick Thistle compensation for not having the chance to avoid relegation due to this pandemic. Suddenly, that injection of money from James Anderson could be taken straight back off clubs to pay the legal bills for Hearts and Thistle.

Yes, these are unprecedented times, with situations changing on a daily basis, but Scotland as a country seems to be far better prepared and more disciplined than some of our neighbours. You need only look to the stats that show in the month of July, there have been nine deaths across twenty days; that’s one less than the total for the last week in June alone. All the while, shops are finding ways to be COVID friendly and pubs have made massive adjustments to enable them to reopen.

It’s time now to turn to sport and selfishly, for us, football.

Colin Watt

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