Alan Pattullo: Football is sadly back on Nicola Sturgeon's agenda and Celtic's Dubai trip is not a good look
No-one is suggesting that amid a frightening increase in Covid-19 cases, and with much still to be learned about a troubling new variant of the disease, football should be top of anyone’s list of priorities, or even near the top.
Nevertheless, many will have tuned into Nicola Sturgeon’s briefing on Monday in the hope of finding out what Lockdown Two was going to mean for football, given things were serious enough to cancel an Old Firm match at 48 hours’ notice shortly before Lockdown One came into effect.
Surprisingly, the impact on football was not raised. The game did feature in the First Minister’s newly re-introduced daily briefing on Tuesday – and it will wish it hadn’t.
For the time being, football can continue, despite its own best efforts. It can keep on providing a balm on those dark winter evening which are making Lockdown Two seem even more of an ordeal. Envy is probably helping harden people’s stance against Celtic’s mid-season trip to Dubai, although, in truth, it would have seemed a nonsense at whatever time of year the Parkhead side chose to go, given the worsening Covid circumstances.
The steady stream of missives from the Middle East yesterday, including one from manager Neil Lennon, seeking to emphasise all the work that was being done on the training field suggested Celtic are belatedly aware of what should have been clear to them back in November, when they say they received approval from the Scottish Government to go.
It is not a good look.
Once again the First Minister has reason to question a football club’s approach to obeying special guidelines put in place for them so that games can still be staged during a pandemic.
The best we can hope for is that these matches are permitted to carry on. The argument about letting fans back in now seems as naïve as thinking elbow nudges instead of handshakes at kick-off would suffice when it came to adopting preventative measures.
We should be braced to hear more from Scottish football’s JRG – the dreaded Joint Response Group – in the weeks ahead, sadly. Because, as much as Neil Doncaster and co were desperate for it to be the case, a virus doesn’t simply go away if you close your eyes and wish it so.
As it stands, Scottish Cup fixtures, when professionals will mix with amateurs all across the county, remain on this weekend, with the next round, when top-flight teams enter the fray, scheduled for the end of this month. That is bound to be another fraught affair if it happens at all, with lower league sides expected to implement testing if they are drawn against a Premiership club.
As this new variant of the disease takes grip, fans are advised to appreciate simply watching football from afar while they can, even if it is via a shaky stream from a camera not quite intuitive enough to know the difference between a bald linesman’s head and the ball.
One League Two chairman told me that he felt less optimistic than ever about the season being completed, certainly in the bottom two tiers, where TV money is not such a persuasive issue. It’s just as well there is a plan in place if another campaign ends up being curtailed ...
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