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Neil Doncaster hopes the Scottish game can benefit from increase in crowd sizes

Scotland v Czech Republic – UEFA Euro 2020 – Group D – Hampden Park
(Image credit: Jane Barlow)

Scottish Professional Football League chief executive Neil Doncaster is hopeful that Scottish football can benefit from a similar increase in crowds to those in England.

Although England’s ‘road to freedom’ from Covid restrictions was delayed on Monday, it was later announced that the Wimbledon finals would be played in front of capacity crowds next month.

Wembley is set to be half full for the latter stages of Euro 2020, double the 21,000 crowd set to attend Scotland’s clash with England this week.

Hampden was less than a quarter full for Scotland’s defeat by the Czech Republic on Monday and BT Murrayfield will work under similar rules with 16,500 set to watch the British and Irish Lions take on Japan later this month.

Ross County v Rangers

Fans watch Ross County take on Rangers last season (Jeff Holmes/PA)

SPFL clubs survived last season with only a handful of games played in front of crowds of several hundred, but only thanks to donations and Scottish Government loans/grants, as well as the patience and financial commitment of season ticket holders.

The 2021-22 fixture list was announced on Tuesday but fans’ main concern is their chances of being present when the season kicks off.

Doncaster told the PA news agency: “I’m certainly hopeful that, as every day passes and more of the population get vaccinated, clearly that improves our prospects of being able to get fans back in stadia in decent numbers.

“It was a real privilege to be at Hampden on Monday. You could see the excitement of so many fans who were desperate to get back to watching live football.

Neil Doncaster

Neil Doncaster wants fans back at Scottish football as soon as possible (Jeff Holmes/PA)

“It’s vitally important we get as many fans back watching football at stadia as soon as possible.

“If you look at what’s happening south of the border, they are ramping up the attendance at Wembley. You will see a very restricted attendance at Wembley this Friday but greater numbers later in the tournament. And Wimbledon tennis finals will have 100 per cent capacity crowds.

“So clearly we are working closely with the Scottish Government to get as many fans back safely as soon as possible.

“They are ongoing conversations led by the Scottish FA and the Joint Response Group. I think everyone understands how crucially important it is to get as many fans back as soon as possible.”

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There was a major financial boost for SPFL clubs last week when the league announced a five-year sponsorship deal with online car retailer cinch, after a season without a title sponsor.

Doncaster said: “It’s very exciting to have the new season’s fixtures out, obviously with the return of the Edinburgh derby and Dundee derby on top of the Glasgow derby and also the return of the Ayrshire derby in the cinch Championship.

“We are looking forward to the new season ahead with optimism and excitement.

“Clearly, finances are a difficult issue for the vast majority of our clubs due to the ongoing absence of fans and clubs have to be commended for the way they have reacted to the epidemic amidst all the very tight restrictions that have been imposed upon them.

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“But, clearly, financially it’s very important that fans return as soon as possible.

“And in terms of finance we have obviously got a long-term live broadcast deal with Sky Sports, which underpins the majority of our payments to clubs, but of course we are also delighted to have the sponsorship of cinch, which will boost the income we can provide to clubs at this difficult time.

“It’s key having a supportive title sponsor. It’s the biggest sponsorship deal in the history of the SPFL and we are extremely grateful for the support cinch are giving Scottish football at a time when Scottish football needs all the financial support we can get.”