The positivity that greeted news that two rounds of Premiership fixtures would be postponed until after the Scottish Government’s three week ban on crowds perished in the cold Paisley air on Wednesday night. Then news filtered through that the Newco game was scheduled for 2 February, a day after Tom Rogic and Kyogo Furuhashi are expected to be in World Cup Qualification action, providing a miserable end to the evening.
Celtic are expected to sign more Japanese internationals next month, leaving open the possibility that they could see to get this game postponed. SPFL rules permit clubs to apply for a postponement if they have three or more players away in international duty, a rule Newco took advantage of when they were still a lower league club.
None of this is to be relied upon. The players would need to be fit enough for selection, then make the cut. A great deal has to happen in a short space of time.
Notwithstanding that, the SPFL decision was great news. Celtic are in no position to play huge games of football right now and I include the Hibs match in that, originally scheduled for 29 December. We need to get through the St Johnstone game on Sunday and reach the winter break with as little damage as possible.
I would take playing Hibs and Newco at a packed Celtic Park over an empty stadium whatever players we have. A raucous Celtic Park is our greatest strength, especially under floodlight. There are fewer more intimidating environments in football.
The one threat to all of this is the Scottish Government. Their mantra from a year ago, about following the science, has been abandoned on this occasion. As Jason Leitch told Radio Scotland yesterday, “There isn’t a particular public health route that takes you to 500 people…… it’s just a judgement.”
Speaking to those who work in this very particular health route, they do not expect things to be materially different in three weeks. If the Scottish Government was consistent, they may extend the ban on scientifically-proven-to-be-safer outdoor gatherings. Who knows, maybe this plan is as consistent as their 2017 backing of the fossil fuel industry, or their 2016 campaigning for coal power plants.
I predict nothing will have changed in the health outlook but, given feedback this week, the Government will be less keen to poke a stick at football fans, so will act in their self-interest and do nothing.