When will football fans be back in stadiums? Latest update as government outlines plans to allow the return of some supporters by Christmas

The proposal would see a gradual return of fans – hinged on controlling the spread of Covid and local infection rates

Scottish football is in the dark as to when fans can return to stadiums.

Prime minister Boris Johnson outlined on Monday 23 November plans to allow some supporters through the turnstiles once the national lockdown ends south of the border.

The move will see the prospect of up to 4,000 people attend an English Premier League match in a tier one area and 2,000 people attend a match at a ground in a tier two area.

Fans look on from socially distanced positions in the stands during the Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership match between Ross County and Celtic at Global Energy Stadium on September. (Pic: Getty Images)

But it remains to be seen what that means for clubs and fans in Scotland, with the country’s Covid restrictions tightened by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Here’s what you need to know.

When were fans last allowed in stadiums?

Not since March have grounds been full of spectators at elite sport level - including international football and rugby matches - due to the virus outbreak.

Dortmund's Norwegian forward Erling Braut Haaland celebrates with fans during a Bundesliga football match on October 3 before fresh Covid restrictions came into force. (Pic: Getty Images)

Initial hopes of seeing fans make a return in October after a short pilot programme were put on hold after a resurgence of Covid across the UK, with a postponement of six months rumoured.

During that time, various clubs have been struggling financially without fans through the turnstiles, while sports are also missing the atmosphere which supporters help to create.

How was the news greeted by fans?

A petition to allow football fans to attend matches at all levels of the game has received more than 200,000 signatures and was discussed in parliament.

In response to the petition, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said it was “committed to getting spectators back into stadia as soon as it is safe to do so” against the backdrop of the current pandemic and concerns over fans’ health.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden sparked excitement among the sporting community after holding what he called “constructive” talks with football leaders on 17 November from the men’s and women’s professional games and fan groups over the prospect of supporters returning.

“Constructive conversation with football leaders on governance… diversity and getting fans back,” he posted on Twitter.

“I want to work together with football to make progress on important issues for the game's long-term future.

“Discussions to continue as we start our fan-led review of governance.”

Mr Dowden’s post did not mention a new target date for a return of fans to grounds.

Yet reports emerged in the media on 18 November that the UK government was working on allowing fans back into grounds as soon as it was deemed safe to do so, possibly before Christmas.

What countries have allowed fans back to stadiums?

After some success in suppressing the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year, Germany, France, Italy, Hungary and the Netherlands allowed some fans back into the grounds.

Yet the decision was reversed when infection rates began to increase.

As well as the percentage of fans allowed into grounds, other considerations around social distancing, hand sanitisers, travel to and from the stadium, entry and exit, pre and post game events were implemented.

What does all this mean for Scottish football?

Amid tightening of Covid restrictions across the country, it is hard to see how significant numbers of fans could be welcomed back into the grounds any time soon.

Two pilot events in September which saw a total of 300 spectators allowed in to watch each of Aberdeen v Kilmarnock and Ross County v Celtic were greeted as a success.

Further trial games were put on hold because of rising case numbers.

December’s rearranged 2019/20 William Hill Scottish Cup final between Celtic and Hearts is scheduled to be played behind closed doors.

Nothing has yet been approved by the UK government to see a return of fans.

But supporters can take comfort in knowing that the prospect of fans returning to football grounds is well and truly on the UK government’s radar.