This weekend, some Scottish clubs may get the green light from Scotland’s government to host fans in their stadiums for the first time since March. Ross County v Celtic is one game hoping for crowds whilst Aberdeen v Kilmarnock is the other.
For the first six rounds of the domestic Premiership season and Scotland’s return to Hampden, supporters haven’t been able to go to the grounds they hold dear. Only a small band of media, club officials and health representatives have been able to access Scottish stadia.
A tired cliché, many say that ‘football without the fans is nothing.’ To be fair, on the basis of behind closed doors football in Scotland, that is a massive understatement.
This writer has been fortunate enough to take in a few games under these new COVID-19 protocols. Whilst the protocols in place are there for all the right reasons, the matchday experience is undoubtedly lessened.
We are sat apart from our colleagues, usually five or six seats in the stands separating each reporter. On top of that, we all wear masks and are asked to fill out track and trace forms upon entry to the stadia. All fairly normal for the times we live in.
But when the game kicks off, stadium just feel a bit empty. The blank stare of cardboard cutouts, whilst a nice gesture for fans, simply doesn’t replicate the feeling of having thousands watching every move on the park for 90 minutes.
It’s eerily quiet too. If you listen closely enough, you can actually hear the sound of players connecting with the ball as they make passes and take shots of goal. The only real noise you hear throughout the match is the instructions being relayed across the pitch from managers to players and vice-versa.
Two games in particular are vivid behind closed doors memories. The first being Motherwell v Glentoran in the Europa League, a game which would usually have had Fir Park packed out.
But instead the stands were empty, with piped-in fan noises being played through the tannoy. It was like something from a film set in a dystopian future. Ironically, the noise you could hear throughout the match was the sound of hundreds of Well fans partying across the street as goals flew in during the 5-1 victory.
Hibs v Aberdeen is the other. Usually this match would have tens of thousands in attendance for a Category A match. Instead, it was very easy to saunter up to Easter Road, no traffic, little movement in and around the stadium. The place was a ghost town around 4PM, 30 minutes before kick-off.
The intensity of the matches seem to take a hit too, games being played at a slower pace in some cases due to the bounce game-like atmosphere at stadiums across the Premiership. It’s why news of fans, even in small numbers, returning for Ross County v Celtic and Aberdeen v Kilmarnock this weekend would be a major boost.
It’s going to be a while before stadiums are at full capacity again. But this weekend will hopefully start the roadmap of a return to normality for Scottish football and its supporters.