Neil Lennon expects first Celtic-Rangers clash of season to be played in front of fans

It’s what the TV companies want, says Parkhead manager
Neil Lennon doesn't expect the first Celtic v Rangers clash of the season to be scheduled among the early fixtures.Neil Lennon doesn't expect the first Celtic v Rangers clash of the season to be scheduled among the early fixtures.
Neil Lennon doesn't expect the first Celtic v Rangers clash of the season to be scheduled among the early fixtures.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon believes the SPFL will avoid scheduling the Scottish champions’ first derby with Rangers in an empty stadium.

The early part of the season – earmarked to begin in six weeks’ time – will be played behind closed doors because of social distancing requirements to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic that brought the last campaign to a premature end.

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The fixture list should be published next week, with a decision on the final attempt to reconfigure the senior leagues into a 14-10-10-10 set-up reached in the coming days.

With supporters unlikely to be allowed back into stadiums in any widespread fashion before October, Lennon does not expect to see the biggest game in the Premiership calendar appearing in the opening quarter of fixtures.

“I do think the authorities will look at it and try and push it back,” he said regarding the first encounter with Rangers that will be a home game for Celtic as they embark on their quest for a record tenth successive league title. “It’ll give us more of a chance of getting the punters back. I think that’s what everyone would want. Everyone associated with the game would want that and the clubs would want that. I’m sure the TV companies would want that as well.

“We’re all hoping that [games without spectators] will be a short-term thing. These are difficult times for clubs in Scotland. We are not immune to it but we always do our best.

“We need our fans and the virtual season ticket will give them an opportunity to see the games even if they can’t be there which I think is brilliant from the club. It’s not ideal but we are not in an ideal environment. It’s not an ideal time for football. Health and safety has to come first but, important as that is, I think it’s also really important to get football back.

“We know what football means to so many people in this country. We have a fantastic product here for the size of the country and it’s important we protect it and get it up and running as best we can. Hopefully in the not too distant future we will have supporters and players back in unison again in the same stadiums with the same atmosphere. But as a short-term fix behind closed doors it is something myself and the players will have to adapt to.

“I watched Bayern Munich-Borussia Dortmund, which is the biggest game in Germany. I’ve watched a lot of the Bundesliga games. The actual quality of football was brilliant. But obviously it was surreal watching it without supporters.

“It didn’t seem to affect the players in terms of what they brought to the game. It’s not what we want, it’s not how we see football. So hopefully it’s a short-term thing.”

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