So it proved with the notion that Ian McGeechan has floated. In his column in The Daily Telegraph, the rugby union luminary turned his attention to the 500-limit on attendances for outdoor sporting events in Scotland as the Omicron spread takes the Covid-19 pandemic into a new phase. The general feeling is that the restrictions won’t be lifted by the Scottish government in the short-term as cases continue to rise and, instead, will be extended beyond the January 17 date at which they are up for review…which just happens to be the day the cinch Premiership will resume following the brought-forward winter shutdown.
Mindful of this distinct possibility, McGeechan has suggested the SRU should give consideration to moving Scotland’s Six Nations games away from an empty Murrayfield to Newcastle United’s home of St James’ Park, with no restrictions having been placed on attendances at sporting events by the UK government. It is only natural to ruminate on whether what could be food for Scottish rugby could be food for Scottish football.
Scotland are scheduled to face England in their Calcutta Cup encounter on February 5. Notably, three days on from Celtic hosting Rangers in the derby fixture re-arranged from January 2. First minister Nicola Sturgeon may have stated in her latest briefing that she hoped “very much we won’t have to go beyond the 17th of January with these restrictions”. But in also stating that the country should be braced for rising covid infections on the back of schools returning from the winter break, there frankly appears few grounds for optimism that will be the case. As a result, what about the SPFL investigating the possibility of the country’s one fixture of genuinely world renown being contested in front of a capacity crowd at St James’ Park on February 2?
It might seem far-fetched - and even McGeechan acknowledged the Scottish government wouldn’t be thrilled at the prospect of a mass border crossing for rugby when they told revellers not to cross into Carlisle from the country for new year celebrations. However, it is difficult to see how the Scottish football governing body, Celtic and their support, wouldn’t see it as preferable to the antiseptic, and spectacle-killing, alternative of playing the confrontation in a near desolate arena in Glasgow’s east end. Not least because the Scottish football fraternity feel they have been harshly treated by the restrictions brought into force in the week before Christmas.
With no provision made for away supporters when the game was originally set to be played, there would be no issues over rivals fans hitting the M74 together. And, of course, there is no legal enforcement preventing any individuals moving between the two nations.
Newcastle are not scheduled to play in that midweek, and as the new owners seek to push their brand, pocketing a decent rental fee for an occasion that would provide them with positive free publicity makes it a no-brainer for them. It is difficult to see the English football authorities raising any objections to the proposal on any point of principle either. However preposterous it may sound then, the obstacles do not seem as insurmountable as might first appear.