Celtic ask Scottish league to bring forward winter break amid new restrictions

Celtic have asked the Scottish league to bring forward the winter break after sports events in Scotland were effectively made spectator-free for up to three weeks.

Top-flight clubs have been discussing the implications of new restrictions introduced by the Scottish Government in a bid to slow the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

New rules will kick in on Boxing Day and impact the festive football fixtures, which include top-flight derbies in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee in the first few days of 2022.

Celtic v Rangers
Celtic and Rangers are due to meet on January 2 (Jane Barlow/PA)

They will also affect the double-header between Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh in the United Rugby Championship.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that public events would be limited to up to 200 indoors and 500 outdoors, admitting that would make football matches “effectively spectator-free”.

The Premiership is due to shut down for three weeks from January 3 with top-flight teams returning to action in the Scottish Cup in the fourth weekend of the year.

To speed up the break, clubs and the Scottish Professional Football League would also need to reach agreement with Sky Sports, which is due to screen four matches before the break, including Rangers’ trip to Celtic Park on January 2.

Celtic and Rangers are already facing fixture disruption in the coming week after Covid-hit St Mirren requested postponements of games against both Glasgow sides.

A Celtic statement read: “In light of today’s announcement regarding supporters attending matches, Celtic can confirm that it has today requested that the SPFL bring forward the scheduled winter break and reschedule the fixtures affected by the regulations announced.

“The game owes it to supporters to explore all opportunities to maximise the prospect of all supporters being able to attend matches and support the game they love.”

Aberdeen outlined the financial implications of playing behind closed doors.

“Matches at Pittodrie over the festive period are traditionally very well attended and are a vital source of revenue for the club, particularly given the challenges it has already faced in the previous two years,” a Dons statement read.

“These latest restrictions are likely to cost the club up to half a million pounds.

“Whilst the safety of our supporters — and those in our wider community — are of uppermost importance, the news this afternoon is a huge blow to all at Aberdeen FC and clubs across Scotland.

“We are working hard behind the scenes with other clubs and the SPFL to navigate these new restrictions and will provide further clarity to supporters and corporate clients as soon as practically possible.”

Speaking just before the announcement, managers from Celtic, St Johnstone and Aberdeen all spoke out in favour of bringing the winter break forward.

Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou said: “I don’t like football played behind closed doors. We had a season of it in Japan, I just didn’t enjoy it. It becomes a different game, a different environment for the players.”

St Johnstone manager Callum Davidson said: “Obviously we want the games to go ahead as much as possible but personally I would rather have the supporters through the door and have a winter break.

“But you don’t really know the severity of Covid in three weeks’ time. That’s the only issue. We could end up being six weeks.”

Aberdeen manager Stephen Glass said: “If it was played in front of very limited fans of course I would rather not play and play in front of a big crowd in those games, 100 per cent.”

The Scottish Rugby Union vowed to work closely with government and public health officials.

“We will continue to liaise closely with Scottish Government and will take all mitigation measures we can to ensure a return to unrestricted stadium access at the earliest possible opportunity,” a statement read.

Sturgeon earlier explained the rationale behind the new limits.

“Firstly we know that the much higher transmissibility of Omicron means large gatherings have the potential to become very rapid super-spreader events, putting large numbers at risk of getting infected very quickly,” she said.

“Limiting these events helps reduce the risk of widespread transmission. It also cuts down the transmission risks associated with travel to and from these events.

“And second, and this is not an insignificant point, these large events put an additional burden on emergency services, especially the police and ambulance services.

“At a time when these services are already under severe pressure and also dealing with high staff absences, limiting large-scale events will help them focus in delivering essential services to the public.”