Today Celtic Park plays host to another full house, another rousing occasion, another game in which 60,000 supporters will gather in our stadium. It will be a tremendous, raucous atmosphere.
And it will be exceptionally dangerous for the unvaccinated.
This island has had a dreadful pandemic.
That might sound like a daft statement; the whole world is having a dreadful pandemic. But this island’s governance has been truly abysmal, the handling of it has been breathtakingly bad and the numbers are there to prove it.
Even now, and even as Scotland moves more slowly than England, we are taking mindboggling risks which few other countries would even dare.
What’s worse is that we are simply not learning from our mistakes.
Vaccination numbers are high, but our support will still include many thousands of fans who either haven’t had their double dose or who are clinically vulnerable even with it.
The chances of this thing spreading in concourses and on supporter’s buses is scandalously high.
Yet few seem concerned about this enough to do even the bare minimum of wearing masks.
And you only have to look at the crowd in their seats to see that in spite of it being a national law and in spite of the ground’s regulations insisting on it that large numbers of people – the vast, vast majority of people – are simply not paying any heed to them.
This is manifestly stupid, and it is grounds for the council and the Scottish Government shutting down the stadiums again or limiting the number of fans allowed inside them.
Believe me, the experts are monitoring every uptick in cases and if they believe there is a correlation between live events and an upsurge in numbers those events will be severely curtailed.
Indeed, they won’t have to look very far to see what has happened; tens of thousands of people ignoring the law of the land inside football grounds. People need to understand that apart from being behaviour that puts other people at risk – far and away the best reason for the taking that simplest of precautions which is to wear a mask at all times – that the footage of all those unmasked faces looks ghastly and colossally irresponsible.
Attending football games is not a human right, it is privilege. It is not something critical to our lives, although our lives are less without it. If someone said to you six months ago that fans would be back in stadiums and all you had to do was wear a mask at all times, many thousands of people would have signed up for that in two seconds flat.
That so few seem willing to do it now is frankly depressing, and it’s scary as well.
What’s more, all the data on which we are basing the highly debatable idea that mass gatherings outdoors are reasonably safe is majorly out of date.
When those calculations were initially made, we were dealing with a variant where one person infected, on average, two or three others; what we call the R number. The current variant – Delta – has an R number between 5 and 9 … it is vastly more transmissible, which is why it is currently wrecking such havoc around the world.
Singing and shouting spread virus particles further than mere talking does, and the 2 meter guidelines were based on two people having a conversation for 15 minutes.
Try people screaming at the pitch, many thousands of them, packed together in tiny plastics seats, and singing and hugging for 90 minutes. A virus couldn’t have better conditions to thrive in.
We moved way too fast here.
The uptick in cases during the Euros showed us some worrying signs, signs which the governments north and south of the border have simply chosen to ignore.
No other major country in Europe is letting fans back into grounds in such large numbers, despite much disinformation to the contrary. Germany, France, Italy and Spain are limiting attendances to 40-50% of stadium capacity for their opening fixtures. Several of them require proof of vaccination before fans can get in.
Here, the English leagues are talking about bringing that measure in next month.
In Scotland the SNP government seems positively dead set against it, in a sterling example of putting public health behind public opinion because they know the idea might be unpopular with supporters.
But the only way in which it doesn’t happen is if fans take their own responsibilities seriously, because if there’s an upsurge in numbers its either vaccine passports or empty stands.
And masks are here to stay, whatever happens, way into the future.
Mask wearing at the football needs to become a habit; it needs to be something people do reflexively, automatically, as they do in Asia whenever something like this bleeps on the radar. Flu season will be upon us soon, and wearing masks in the winter is just good sense anyway. Combined with this thing, it would be mad not to.
Bear in mind that we might already be in the grip of more than we can handle; remember that we’re always around three weeks behind the actual case numbers and we are currently seeing 1500 people infected in Scotland every single day.
Our fans simply have to be more responsible.
All fans do.
Celtic has asked fans to wear masks inside the stadium, including in their seats, and it is not an unreasonable request and if it’s not going to be followed then the local authority and the Scottish Government are well within their rights to cut the capacity and even close the ground itself … if Celtic don’t take that decision for them.
If you don’t think they will you haven’t been paying attention.
We are still, currently, under emergency legislation. Any event above 5000 depends on a special exemption and they have to be applied for before every game. This is not a hypothetical issue.
When this pandemic started we were all relatively helpless in the face of it. We knew little about the bug and because of that we were reliant on what the governments did and what they told us to do.
The next phase of this pandemic depends on what we do, whether that’s getting vaccines or protecting ourselves and others by taking the proper precautions.
It is our own choices – the decisions we make – which will guide the course of this thing going forward.
On Thursday, Parkhead paid a moving tribute to those who have already died … and then thousands of fans took their masks off as if there was no more need to wear them at all.
If you are sitting in the stand at Celtic Park today, I urge you to wear your mask.
If you’re walking through the concourses you absolutely must wear one.
Because otherwise you are endangering yourself, the club and the people around you, it is that simple, it that uncomplicated.
I am not trying to be dramatic, I’m simply stating a fact.
It is an inconvenience?
Yes, of course it is.
Is it a pain in the backside?
But if, during this crisis, you’ve buried a loved one or sweated every minute that someone in your circle was sick, or if you’ve been sick yourself then you’ll know that there are worse things.