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SPFL/SFA Need To Be Smarter When Arguing To Bring Fans Back

Date: 5th October 2020

Over the past couple of days the SFA and SPFL have once again pushed the Scottish government to answer questions regarding bringing fans back into football stadiums. 

I just wish they’d be smarter with their arguments. 

Instead of constantly pitting Scottish football against other sectors like retail or hospitality, they should hammer home the benefits of our game to the community. 

During an interview with BBC Sportsound, SFA vice president Mike Mulraney stated: 

“I think it is driven by science, but do you think that sitting one metre away from somebody eating in a restaurant has less risk than sitting two metres away from someone in a stadium with a mask on?”

It really makes no sense to compare football with the hospitality industry. Firstly most people will go out and dine with fellow members of their own household and they can only integrate with one other household at any one time in a restaurant environment. At football you’ll still expect hundreds of fans coming into the venue and using same facilities. 

Plus just look at the numbers when it comes to the economy. 

Hospitality roughly bring £4bn into the Scottish economy and they hire between 200,000 and 300,000 employees. Football on the other hand brings in around £200m and hire just over 5,000 people. So really it makes sense that the Scottish government would prioritise the hospitality sector over football. 

In the same interview SPFL chief Neil Doncaster would go on and make an argument that it was unfair for Celtic and Rangers to play in front of empty stands in Europe while opponents would have fans in their stadiums:

“With Rangers and Celtic back in the Europa League group playing against teams in Portugal, France, Poland and Belgium.

“There will be fans in those stadiums, fans cheering on their crowds.”

“So our clubs, Celtic and Rangers, will clearly be at a big disadvantage not having fans in our stadiums and that can’t be right.” 

I am sorry Neil but politicians and clinicians like Nicola Sturgeon and Jason Leitch won’t give a damn about sporting fairness during a global pandemic. That argument won’t even garner much support with the rest of the Scottish footballing public never mind the decision makers. 

Personally, I’d be more inclined to remind the government that the pilot events seem to have been successful. Explain the benefits football has on the community not just in terms of jobs and boosting the local economy but also how it has helped local charities and the vulnerable during lockdown. Let the fans tell the politicians the health benefits of going to football, like how it positively impacts on their mental health. 

I also urge Mulraney and Doncaster to seriously look at coming up with a strong cohesive plan that would see the smaller clubs within our game bring back fans first. They are the ones that need supporters in their terraces the most and they won’t put the same strain on public services like policing and the public transport system. 

Have clubs bring in Covid officers who can strategise and have plans in place that show how fans can return to smaller grounds and be socially distant from each other. 

National clinical director Leitch told BBC Sport that he’d be inclined to do more to help smaller clubs first:

“I’m very mindful of the smaller clubs who could put together pretty strong mitigation to have small, distanced, local crowds and keep the vulnerable away. That will come back and I am an advocate for that but it’s about timing.”

Scottish football has to sing about all it’s positives and make as near to perfect plans as possible to show that they can bring fans back and do it successfully and not just moan or think its a competition between them and another sector within society. 

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