This weekend’s Old Firm Derby, the first league match since Rangers were crowned Scottish Premiership champions for the first time in ten years, is under threat of being called off. Nicola Sturgeon fears supporters will turn up at Parkhead enmasse to show their support to Steven Gerrard’s men for ending almost a decade of Celtic dominance.
A large number of Rangers fans celebrated their club’s success by partying in the streets last weekend.
The events drew huge criticism from the Scottish Government, who are now threatening to cancel this weekend’s Old Firm Derby.
Both clubs have released statements urging supporters to stay at home to watch the match on Sunday.
However, First Minister Sturgeon is not convinced that the statements will be enough to avoid a large gathering, which is against coronavirus rules.
“No final decision has been made yet,” Sturgeon said of the Old Firm Derby. “I welcome the statements made by both Rangers and Celtic.
“Of course it was Rangers fans who were gathering a week ago.
“I hope the clubs will continue that over the next couple of days. It can’t just be one statement and then it’s done. As we know, from our experience of the last year, these communications are really important on an ongoing basis.
“I spoke to the chief constable last week about his views on what might transpire if the Old Firm match goes ahead. The Justice Secretary has been in contact with the police and we will be in further contact with the police as this week goes on.
“They will have intelligence of their own about whether it appears to them that fans in the main are following the advice of the clubs and staying at home, or whether there’s a significant risk of fans coming out to gather.
“On the basis of all of that we will have to make a judgement.
“I never want to stand here and say ‘football matches can’t go ahead’ or any of the other things we enjoy in life can’t go ahead, but that’s the reality while we’re still in this position.
“Big gatherings presents a risk of transmission and we’re trying to get that as low as possible so that we can open up all of the things that we enjoy doing.”
Barriers have been erected around Parkhead and security chiefs are working tirelessly to ensure fans cannot get close to the action.
A Rangers spokesperson said: “Rangers can confirm we took part in a multi-agency meeting this afternoon with representatives from the Scottish Government, Glasgow City Council, Police Scotland and Celtic FC.
“This is to continue an open and constructive dialogue in relation to the upcoming Old Firm fixture at Parkhead on Sunday, March 21.
“We are pleased that today’s meeting was very constructive and we have agreed to support the ‘stay at home’ message.
“Rangers would like to reiterate manager Steven Gerrard’s comments from last weekend, for supporters to stay at home and ensure the safety of themselves and others.
“We are cognisant of the ongoing fight against COVID-19 and ask that everyone follows Government guidance to stay at home.
“The club will continue to liaise with all agencies as well as a number of supporters. We will continue to work to ensure that the clubs message is reiterated over the coming week and will provide further updates in due course.”
And Celtic wrote: “Celtic FC can confirm that the club will participate in a multi-agency meeting to discuss preparations for our match on March 21.
“The Scottish Government has already made clear to Celtic that it does not in any way associate the scenes last weekend with Celtic or our supporters.
“Although Celtic and our supporters are desperate to get back to Celtic Park to support the team, the club and our supporters are of course mindful of the risks associated with public gatherings at this important time.
“The club has been clear in our messaging to our supporters of the importance of staying at home in line with applicable guidance throughout the pandemic.
“We have communicated regularly around our fixtures and our supporters have worked with the club responsibly – the celebrations after our historic nine in row title triumph last summer and after our unprecedented quadruple treble Scottish Cup win in December are two key examples of that.
“We will re-emphasise that message for this fixture as we have done during the season and we are sure that our supporters will work with the club while the restrictions remain in place.
“Given the damage caused to club property recently, the club has already taken steps to enhance security and protection of our property at Celtic Park and the club is happy to work with those attending the meeting to ensure that any additional protection necessary will be in place for the match in question.”