Despite Boris Johnson’s recent announcement that elite sport can return, there has been no such relaxation of the rules in Scotland. Football in Scotland has been suspended since 13 March with many clubs struggling financially as a result. The Scottish Football Association has announced that top-flight clubs can return to training on 11 June. However, this will be conditional upon adherence to the Scottish Government’s route to recovery.

The English Game

The English Premier League plans to begin on 17 June, subject to clubs meeting all safety requirements. The Premier League has placed health and safety as a priority in returning to football. However, there have been differing approaches across Europe, with the German Bundesliga outlining that guaranteeing the safety of all players may be impossible. Rather, the approach in Germany has been to take a medically justified risk.

There are currently four sports-specific guidance documents published by the UK Government in relation to the return to sport. The emerging theme from each is ensuring a safe place of work for all involved in the game. Following government guidance will be crucial for clubs and governing bodies in facilitating the return to football.

Health and Safety Requirements

As we begin to pass through each phase of the routemap, it will be important that venues and clubs strictly adhere to the guidance. Both clubs and governing bodies have to ensure that comprehensive, Covid-19 risk assessments are undertaken prior to the restart of sporting events or activities.

Employers have a duty, so far as is reasonably practicable, to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees as well as others who might be affected by their business. At the core of this is the requirement to assess the risks. For football, that means thinking about things like how to maintain social distancing where possible, undertaking testing, cleaning equipment and providing hand sanitising facilities.

From a Scottish football perspective, both Celtic and Ross County have already purchased testing machines which reportedly cost between £25-000 – £30,000. The SFA is urging other clubs to follow suit. As we approach 11 June, it is clear that the return to football will not be cheap.

Former Brechin manager, Michael O’Neill, expressed his concerns of the further financial impact a testing regime will have on clubs, particularly within the lower leagues. Scottish clubs rely heavily on the income generated from fans and will be eager for fans to return, however the priority at present is ensuring the welfare of staff and players.

‘Football without fans is nothing’

Even if the project to return to football is successful, fans may be waiting some time before they can watch their team live.

The absence of fans at the recent Bundesliga games was noticeable and it may be that our Zoom skills are put to good use if the recent match of AGF Aarhus v Randers in Denmark is anything to go by. Around 10,000 fans were able to join in and watch live using a virtual grandstand. This weekend viewers could hear artificial crowd noise while watching the Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund match. For football fans, it’s undoubtedly better than nothing but it would be difficult to suggest it beats being in the stand on match day. Going forwards, there will be many concerns for clubs and governing bodies in re-opening their grounds particularly following reports of increased Covid-19 exposure at Cheltenham and Liverpool v Atlético Madrid prior to lockdown.

These are exceptional times and many clubs and fans are eager to get back to football. Despite this, only four nations so far have promised the return of football to our screens. The fan experience will be a lot different this season and it appears that the weekend Zoom calls may have to continue for some time.


Stephen Flynn

Trainee at Brodies LLP