Celtic host Rangers in the first Old Firm game of the season on Saturday. Here, Sky Sports News Reporter Charles Paterson anticipates what will be a very different derby …
No followers, no atmosphere
“A derby like no other.”
These words have often been used to describe the uniqueness of the Old Firm game, but this weekend even those who are familiar with the accessory will experience something new.
The prospect of Celtic and Rangers meeting competitively within an empty stadium was once unfathomable. Saturday will come true.
On derby day in Glasgow, it is generally impossible to hear properly, let alone think clearly, as the cacophony of fans echoes throughout the stadium. Unfortunately, the only sounds to be heard at Celtic Park will be the animated screams of the players on the field and the staff on the touchline.
This game was scheduled later than normal in the match schedule by the SPFL to offer the ability for some fans to attend, but tightening of lockdown rules in recent weeks by the Scottish Government means the game will be played. behind closed doors.
Successful pilot events that took place in Aberdeen and Ross County raised hopes that supporters may have returned to stadiums in limited numbers now, but the surge in positive cases across the country has dashed hopes for the future. foreseeable.
Scottish football authorities have recently begun to put pressure on the Scottish government urging them to reconsider, arguing that the decision to keep fans on lockdown is political rather than a measure based on scientific and health advice.
Regardless of this feud, the color, passion and spectacle that are an essential part of possibly the fiercest rivalry in world football will not be on show this time around.
“It’s a huge ingredient that is going to be missing,” Celtic manager Neil Lennon said in preparation. “There is no doubt that players will miss the noise and the advantage these games bring.”
Could this unique situation help visitors? Rangers winger Ryan Kent doesn’t foresee much trouble. “It will certainly be different, the fans make this game,” he said. “But I still feel the intensity and aggressiveness of the game to stay there.”
In April 1994, the Rangers expelled Celtic supporters from Ibrox after accusing them of damaging parts of the ground, that game ended in a 1-1 draw, but Saturday will be the first time in living memory that neither point guard of fans has been present.
Health and security
The absence of supporters and the life restrictions currently in place in Scotland’s “central belt” have inadvertently created a debate about where fans will be when the game starts and how they will view it.
The game is exclusively live Sky Sports main event Y Fútbol Sky Sports starting at 11.30am on Saturday, most of the supporters from across the country will be set up to watch the action in their own homes.
Homes in Glasgow and central Scotland are prohibited from mixing to prevent the spread of the virus, while bars, pubs and restaurants are closed, and the SPFL and the Scottish government have urged their supporters not to gather to watch the game, as they normally do. .
Since private houses are the only local place to watch the game, the possibility of traveling across the border to see pubs in England, whether to Cumbria or Northumberland, or even further afield, has been discussed. The authorities there are aware of potential problems.
“We understand that restrictions on licensed venues in Scotland may offer the temptation to travel south of the border to visit our pubs and bars, but anyone who violates rules here faces a fine, ”said Cumbria Police Superintendent Matt Kennerley.
“We would like licensees to be aware of this and think carefully about their responsibilities and the rules in place to protect everyone.”
Blackpool has been a favorite holiday destination for generations of Glasgow locals, but many of the bars that visitors normally frequent won’t be opening on Saturday, and the idea has received little attention from authorities.
“I have to say my heart sank when I heard this,” said Dr. Gregor Smith, the interim Medical Director.
“We now have several hundred cases in Scotland associated with trips to Blackpool in particular, so when I started looking at reports of planned trips to that area, all I could see was an exceptional risk to the people taking that trip.”
“If you were thinking of going to Blackpool and haven’t booked, don’t go. Please do not travel to Blackpool this weekend to watch the Old Firm game, ”said Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
“Even more specifically, because we know this is a problem and I want to be very clear about it – don’t travel to Blackpool this weekend to watch the Old Firm game in a pub.”
“It would be totally irresponsible for fans to drive south to watch the game at licensed facilities there. We very much hope that people will see the game in their own homes; it’s a cheaper and absolutely safe way to do it, ”said the SPFL CEO. Neil Doncaster.
What about the Scottish Police, so often in force on days like these, and their plans to keep the peace before and after the game? They seem to be luring people to use some common sense.
“The police chief has made it clear that we are asking people to take personal responsibility for doing the right thing and remember that the purpose of these measures is to help the collective effort to stay safe, protect others and save lives by prevent the virus from spreading. Superintendent Stevie Dolan said.
“Our officers will continue to interact with the public, explain legislation and guidance, and encourage compliance. We will use the application as a last resort only when there is a clear violation of the law ”.
The concept of not being able to watch the game with other fans and family members will be difficult for many to accept, but authorities hope that the risk of a long-term lockout will deter most from breaking the rules.
Reports of players contracting Covid-19 and others being forced to isolate themselves are now so common that they are almost no longer stories, but in the last week Celtic have felt the full effects of the virus on their squad.
Nir Bitton and Hatem Elhamed are out after testing positive while on international duty with Israel, while star forward Odsonne Edouard is a big question: he tested positive for France U21 last week, and after completing his isolation he can only be so. fit enough for the bank. .
Ryan Christie is also missing, although he did not test positive. Instead, he was identified as a close contact from his positive Scotland teammate Stuart Armstrong, much to Lennon’s frustration: “Certainly, from our perspective, it could definitely have been avoided. That is one of the individual cases that does not satisfy me. “
If there’s one thing to cheer Lennon up on, it’s that Celtic entered the game after eight straight wins in all competitions, and a win would put the champions two points clear at the top with one game in hand.
Rangers have so far been unaffected by the pandemic and should only monitor standard injury concerns. Joe Aribo and Kemar Roofe may not be fit enough to come back, but Ryan Jack is back in full force after starring in Scotland, while Borna Barisic bounced back to play for Croatia this week.
They have yet to lose a game in any competition this season and can draw on recent positive memories of Celtic Park; Gerrard’s team won 2-1 in December when the two teams last met, the Rangers’ first win at the east end of Glasgow in nine years. With that voodoo crushed, confidence won’t be in short supply.
The first of four league meetings this season, pandemic permitting, will determine nothing more than bragging rights, but the outcome will certainly determine how both halves of the Old Firm will feel heading into the fall, as they approach. to a card packed with home games. and abroad.
The must-see match may be without that extra something special on Saturday, but the first Covid-affected Old Firm game will still be a riveting experience.