Get ready for Old Firm hub wars when Scottish football returns

Would Rangers or Celtic give ground when it came to deciding on home advantage?
Bundesliga action returned in Germany yesterday but there was no 'Yellow Wall' for Dortmund's win over Schalke. Picture: Martin Meissner/AFP/GettyBundesliga action returned in Germany yesterday but there was no 'Yellow Wall' for Dortmund's win over Schalke. Picture: Martin Meissner/AFP/Getty
Bundesliga action returned in Germany yesterday but there was no 'Yellow Wall' for Dortmund's win over Schalke. Picture: Martin Meissner/AFP/Getty

Football was back but without the Yellow Wall. Borussia Dortmund led the charge yesterday afternoon but of course the famous, fitba-tourist, steepling bank of sunshine-clad humanity couldn’t be in its usual place.

On Radio 4 the previous day a Dortmund diehard reckoned the absence of fans rendered the derby fixture against Schalke pointless. “The thrill is gone. Football without spectators isn’t football,” he despaired. Is this true? Would this really be like China shorn of its Great Wall? Well, remember how a visit by West Brom to the structure, begun in 481BC, left the Baggies’ aesthetes underwhelmed. “When you’ve seen one wall you’ve seen ’em all,” was the verdict. Safe in their bubbles, headphones on, footballers can be underwhelmed by lots of things, and they wouldn’t even have had headphones in England’s West Midlands when WBA ventured to the Far East. Probably still don’t have them now.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

So anyway, football behind closed doors – what would it be like? Dortmund vs Schalke was hopefully going to be instructive. It would tell us about risk. Whether fan-free matches actually work. And how much we’ve missed the game since lockdown began.

Scotland’s latest wheeze is the hub. A number of them. The nimblest and best-equipped grounds staging wall-to-wall games over whole weekends. Football orgies, if you like. And we might get to watch. Actually be present. But closed-doors matches remain a distinct possibility for Scotland – they have to. By July and the potential re-start, the pandemic may still have us, if not its grip, then too nervous about it coming back for a second go, like a groggy and malevolent full-back.

Two weeks ago in this spot I wrote that closed-doors matches would amount to ersatz football watched by cardboard fans because German clubs were proposing to fill the stands with cut-outs. One week ago I listed favourite German footballers from the past and favourite bands from the krautrock era – you couldn’t get away with that term now – and seemed to be coming round to the idea.

So there I was at 2.30pm, courtesy of BT Sport, watching my first Geisterspielen or ghost game. Just before the teams appeared, You’ll Never Walk Alone boomed from the Signal Iduna Park speakers. Well, these guys were certainly playing alone. Once the music was killed this fabulous stadium was creepily quiet. Just 300 inside and only the 22 on the park not expected to wear masks. They giggled nervously, doubtless wondering how this was going to pan out.

What’s called the Revierderby began like a training match, which was hardly surprising, but the players quickly shed their tentativeness and the contest built to a decent intensity. These are clearly men who during the enforced break haven’t been making too many trips to the fridge or wasting too many afternoons watching reruns of Midsomer Murders.

Without a vested interest, I looked for players I knew. Where was Marco Reus? Then I remembered that German football has been looking for the Dortmund forward, the future of the national team, for years. You know you’re getting old when Reus, injured again, hits 30; indeed he’ll be 31 at the end of the month.

Thankfully Dortmund have another blond bombshell, a more robust one in Erling Haaland. In the 28th minute a bout of slick passing was rounded off with his nonchalant finish – big-time football’s first post-Covid goal. And – bonus – I could relate to it: the beefy Norwegian was part of the Molde team who last season turned over Hibs in a Europa League qualifier.

What would the first post-Covid celebration be like? Following the no-tongues guidance from Angela Merkel – inset, a football fan, unlike our own dear First Minister – Haaland performed a daft dance while his team-mates stood the regulation distance from him and applauded.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

If Schalke thought the non-appearance of the Yellow Wall would be a leveller, further fine team goals for Dortmund disabused them of that notion and by then 04 were 4-0 down and looking like they had indeed let themselves go during the Bundesliga’s 61-day interruption.

Germany’s clubs have retained home advantage for the league’s resumption so how would the hubs work here? The idea behind them is they would enable Scottish football to pop its head back overground, emerging from the shutdown in a safe and controlled manner. Sounds fine in principle, but there would need to be a debate over which stadia are accorded the status and there might well be a giant rammy when it comes to deciding on the Glasgow hub.

Can you imagine Celtic and Rangers having a reasonable, grown-up discussion about this? In the current state of disharmony there would be nothing safe and controlled about it. Tomorrow Celtic will claim a championship that Rangers to their dying breath will argue was phoney. Admittedly, the disharmony is always like this but on the issue of who hosts the games and therefore retains home advantage, surely neither of the Old Firm would be willing to, as it were, give ground. The only fair solution would be to make Firhill the HQ. And after what’s just happened to Partick Thistle, that wouldn’t offer succour, but it would be a way of saying sorry.

One more thing about our potentially hubbable future: plastic pitches would be crucial to the plan. Playing surfaces are going to take a pounding given the intense number of games they’ll host. Thus, a football-starved nation should start viewing Rugby Park and New Douglas Park in a fonder light and more of us could appreciate the charms of the little Indodrill, home to Alloa Athletic at the foot of the Ochils and its half-time snack of the gods, the Waspburger (black pudding, bacon and potato scone, all in the same bun).

All of that has still to be approved and agreed and, judging by recent rammies, we shouldn’t be holding our breath, whatever the medical advice. Meantime, our friends in Germany are back in the game. Well done them and especially the athletic and snog-shunning Borussia Dortmund who really couldn’t have played any better yesterday to endear themselves to the rest of us.

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.

Subscribe to and enjoy unlimited access to Scottish news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Visit now to sign up.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Our journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them. By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.

Joy Yates

Editorial Director

Related topics:



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.