SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster has warned there is no more room to manoeuvre after the winter break was brought forward in light of new restrictions for sporting events in Scotland.
Ten of the 12 Premiership clubs had voted in favour of starting the winter break immediately after the Scottish Government limited crowds at outdoor events to 500 for a period of up to three weeks.
However, that proposal was ruled out by the Scottish Professional Football League board as there was simply not enough space in an already congested fixture calendar.
Instead, Boxing Day games will go ahead as planned in front of limited crowds with the fixtures from December 29 and January 2-3 put back to January 17-18 and February 1-2 respectively.
Although Doncaster was pleased a compromise was able to be reached, he issued a warning that should restrictions be extended clubs would have to prepare for the prospect of playing further games with limited crowds.
“It’s been a bad week for Scottish football in terms of the restrictions but a good week in terms of the democratic process and the league being able to respond to clubs’ requests,” Doncaster told Sky Sports News.
“There was an overwhelming view there should be postponements with the majority of clubs wanting to postpone all three festive fixtures.
“But we only have two available slots prior to the league split so the compromise of playing on Boxing Day but postponing the December 29 and New Year’s games was the right approach to take.
“We know it causes difficulties with congestion but the responsible thing from the Board was to listen to the majority and respond.
“I’m pleased with the compromise put forward, but it now means there’s no further room to delay games – we’ve used the two available slots that exist and there simply isn’t any more space.”
‘SPFL will be given financial support’
The Scottish government’s decision to limit crowds to just 500 people have left many, including Doncaster, frustrated when many stadiums can house many more fans safely.
However, the SPFL chief executive is remaining positive crowds will return in full force and confirmed the Scottish government had already pledged financial support to those affected.
“The situation has been and continues to be crippling for SPFL clubs so it’s vitally important we get as much financial support as possible from the Scottish Government in the light of these restrictions,” Doncaster added.
“We’ve been told very clearly there will be support and I think the Scottish government do understand how critical finances are within Scottish football and how important it is to get as much funding as possible, as quickly as possible.
“In the meantime, we have to make the best of the situation and continue to liaise with the Scottish government to hopefully get back to full crowds as soon as possible.”
Boxing Day games – going ahead as scheduled
- St Johnstone vs Celtic (live on Sky Sports) – 12.30pm
- Aberdeen vs Dundee – 3pm
- Dundee United vs Hibernian – 3pm
- Hearts vs Ross County – 3pm
- Motherwell vs Livingston – 3pm
- Rangers vs St Mirren – 3pm
Rangers express ‘immense frustration’ at restrictions
Rangers have expressed their “immense frustration” at new restrictions on crowds.
The champions broke their silence on Tuesday’s Scottish Government announcement to update supporters on plans for their Boxing Day encounter against St Mirren at Ibrox.
Rangers and Ross County were the only two Scottish Premiership clubs who wanted all the festive fixtures to go ahead amid new rules limiting outdoor events to 500 spectators as the Scottish Government bids to slow the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
The Scottish Professional Football League board, which includes Rangers managing director Stewart Robertson, ultimately decided to go ahead with Boxing Day games and postpone the following two fixtures until January and February.
A club statement read: “Rangers Football Club notes the recent announcement made by the First Minister, which will severely reduce the number of supporters able to access Ibrox Stadium for our Boxing Day fixture with St Mirren.
“This match will go ahead following discussions with fellow SPFL clubs in recent days.
“We share the immense frustration of our loyal fans, who would have ensured the match would have been a sell-out, however, we will now only be able to welcome a miniscule proportion of that proposed crowd to the stadium.
“A ballot will be held to ensure an extremely limited number of our season ticket holders will be able to attend the match, with those successful notified at the earliest opportunity.”
The match will be shown on the club’s television channel at no additional cost for season ticket holders unable to attend the game.
When postponed Premiership games will take place
The fixtures that were due to be played on December 29 and January 2-3 have been pushed back, including the Old Firm, Edinburgh and Dundee derbies, and will now take place on the following dates – either side of the Scottish Cup fourth round:
Monday January 17
- Celtic vs Hibernian – 7.45pm
Tuesday January 18
- Aberdeen vs Rangers (live on Sky Sports) – 7.45pm
- Dundee United vs St Mirren – 7.45pm
- Heart of Midlothian vs St Johnstone – 7.45pm
- Livingston vs Dundee – 7.45pm
- Ross County vs Motherwell – 7.45pm
Tuesday February 1
- Dundee vs Dundee United – 7.45pm
- Hibernian vs Heart of Midlothian (live on Sky Sports) – 7.45pm
- Livingston vs St Johnstone – 7.45pm
- Ross County vs Aberdeen – 7.45pm
- St Mirren vs Motherwell – 7.45pm
Wednesday February 2
- Celtic vs Rangers (live on Sky Sports) – 7.45pm
‘No guarantee over restrictions’
Cabinet Secretary for Health & Social Care Humza Yousaf was asked about the new restrictions that will take effect in Scotland from Boxing Day and promised to review the crowd limitations over the course of the next three weeks.
“What I’ve learned in the course of the past 20 months is that it’s very difficult to give guarantees in the midst of a pandemic, especially when you’re at the foothills of a wave of a new variant,” Yousaf said.
“The First Minister said ‘up to three weeks’ and we’ll review that regularly during the course of those three weeks.
“But I can give you an absolute promise that the government takes no pleasure in bringing forward protective measures and we won’t keep them in place for a minute more than they have to be.”