by Colin Campbell
I WAS at the last major sporting event in Scotland, in fact in Europe, where thousands of people were in attendance and I’d like to be at the next one as well, if I could get a ticket.
Ibrox last March hosted a European tie in front of a sellout 50,000 crowd and then we all went home to await the imminent arrival of lockdown. The atmosphere was distinctly muted that strange Thursday night.
Now thousands of fans will be heading to Hampden Park in June for European Championship ties to be held there involving Scotland.
Nicola Sturgeon has given the go ahead for a mass convergence of fans on the national stadium in just eight weeks time.
The stadium will not be full, with numbers restricted to around 12,000. But there’s no way even that reduced number can be chaperoned into Hampden without close contact and at least some measure of increased virus risk, probably a large measure.
Sturgeon was acting on scientific advice, of course.
That is, scientific advice which has veered from advocating maximum caution during the extremely gradual emergence from lockdown to advising its OK to open the gates of Hampden to thousands in a few weeks time.
Sturgeon was well aware what the reaction would have been if she’d vetoed supporters being allowed to attend these games, which would have meant Hampden being removed from the list of host stadiums altogether.
A bit of turbulence surrounding Alex Salmond’s Alba Party would have been as nothing compared to the hurricane force hostility which would have hit her if she emerged as the woman who fouled up Scotland’s return to the European football stage.
Virus or no virus, her Hampden decision could only have gone one way. Now, four weeks before the May elections, she will be pleased by the acclaim she’s received and the very favourable headlines accompanying it.
But the simple truth is that she has opened up Hampden to thousands of football fans as a result of her bending to popular will.
That runs directly contrary to her determination up to now to be portrayed as the ultra -cautious leader of the nation who was prepared to take the toughest coronavirus decisions, and never flinch from them, no matter how unpopular they were among some people or indeed many people.
Sturgeon has taken off her bossy boots and put on her football boots and no doubt will be widely pictured at Hampden cheering on Scotland amid the waving Saltires.
She said as much yesterday. “The restrictions set out over the last year have been really difficult for everyone – but I am looking forward to joining the Tartan Army in cheering on Scotland in June at Hampden Park. The country has delivered for the fans – now it’s all eyes on the team to deliver the results!”
No populist grandstanding from “I’ll be straight with you” Sturgeon there, then.
It all looks distinctly phony, but that should just about be acceptable to most people in the circumstances.
Just as long she’s no longer listening to some of her more extreme advisers, like caution-obsessive Professor Devi Sridhar, who I heard saying on the radio the other day that another lockdown may be necessary if there’s a big rise in virus cases later in the year.
On-the-ball Sturgeon should realise in her latest role as football cheerleader-in-chief that there’s as much chance of that being accepted by a widely vaccinated public as there is of bonny Scotland winning the Euros.