THE flashpoint Old Firm showdown is at a 'very real' risk of being scrapped – as police chiefs demand action on fans’ behaviour from both clubs.
Force insiders have told of frontline cops’ concerns over the powderkeg clash going ahead amid fears of a repeat of Rangers supporters’ lockdown-breaking title celebrations.
Sources have said there is 'a very real possibility' the Ibrox side’s match with Celtic at Parkhead on March 21 should not go ahead – with intel already revealing some fans’ plans to gather at both stadiums.
It come as the Scottish Police Federation demanded assurances from the clubs and warned of the 'increased risks' to officers following chaotic scenes at the weekend.
Rangers clinched their first top-flight league title in a decade on Sunday after Celtic drew 0-0 with Dundee United – sparking huge gatherings of jubilant fans across Glasgow.
Today, a source said: “There needs to be assurances that there will be no repeats of what happened at the weekend — but everyone knows this is going to be a challenge.
“The responsibility falls on the clubs, but will fans really listen to them?
“There have already been indications some supporters plan to gather at Parkhead on March 21.
“What officers had to deal with at the weekend was bad enough, without adding in rivalry and the potential for violence.
“Calling the game off is a very real possibility.”
On Tuesday, Nicola Sturgeon told Holyrood: “The behaviour witnessed at the weekend was disgraceful and selfish.
“In terms of future fixtures, there are a variety of discussions happening over the course of this week, including one between myself and the chief constable.
“We will report back on those in due course and certainly before the scheduled Old Firm match on March 21.
“The reason we’ve tried to keep football and elite sport, generally, going is not for the benefit really of the elite sports people but for the fans."
And she hit out again as she told MSPs the Rangers fans’ title celebrations had left a 'question mark' over whether it was right to let professional sport continue during lockdown.
The First Minister said the decision to resume games behind closed doors last year had not been 'free of criticism' as she was quizzed on when she thinks supporters will be allowed back in grounds.
She told Holyrood’s Covid-19 committee: “We have tried to keep sport going or get it going again after last year’s lockdown – albeit behind closed doors – in order to give football fans the ability to watch their team even if they can’t be there in person.
“Obviously what happened at the weekend puts huge, huge question marks in people’s mind over whether that was the right thing to do or not and creates lots of anger on the part of many people.”
Asked by SNP MSP Willie Coffey if she thinks fans will be back inside stadiums 'in the near future', Ms Sturgeon referenced her fury over the scenes in Glasgow at the weekend.
She said: “It’s maybe a sensitive subject to be asking me about right now.
“I’m also conscious of the fact – and it’s just one of the burdens of office – that anything I say on football has somebody or other deciding I’m the worst person ever.
“I hope soon. I hope that before too long in some competition or other fans will be able to be in Somerset Park to watch Ayr Utd beat Killie. But I can’t put a date on it right now.”
We told how Sturgeon tore into Rangers chiefs over fans’ lockdown-breaking title celebrations and accused club bosses of a lack of leadership by not doing enough to prevent the chaos.
And David Hamilton – chairman of the SPF, which represents rank and file cops – said: “If the game does go ahead, we would expect there to be assurances from both clubs that there will be no repeat of the fan behaviours seen in the last few weeks.
“Old Firm football matches are some of the most difficult and hostile policing environments and the risk to our members has increased hugely as a consequence of the pandemic.”
It is understood some officers who were on duty at Rangers fans’ lockdown-breaking title celebrations are now self-isolating as a precaution.
Mass Covid-19 testing of cops exposed to the crowds are the weekend is also underway.
Officers nicked 28 people on Sunday, while seven were issued with fixed penalty notices or will be reported to the procurator fiscal.
Reasons given for the arrests included assaulting police officers, breaching coronavirus regulations, disorder, use of flares and sectarian breaches of the peace.
The First Minister also blasted 'selfish' supporters for 'flagrantly breaching' Covid rules and said talks were being held with Chief Constable Iain Livingstone over how to avoid a repeat of the havoc.
She told her Covid briefing on Tuesday: “I’ve had a three page letter from Rangers that doesn’t even reflect the fact that what happened was deeply regrettable, and that we all have to reflect on how we avoid that happening in future.
“At no point, unless I missed it in which case I will have it pointed out and will stand corrected, did Rangers simply and unequivocally say to their fans, ‘stay at home’.
“As far as I am concerned in this case, Rangers did not do nearly enough to help avoid this situation arising at the weekend.
“We will be having further discussions this week with the football authorities and with certain clubs who, in my view, do need to show much more leadership.”
Ibrox bosses, cop chiefs and the Scottish Government became embroiled in a war of words in the aftermath of the mass celebrations.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney and Police Scotland accused Ibrox bosses of failing to do enough to stop fans gathering. Rangers then released a letter which they claimed proved they took effective control measures in advance of the rowdy weekend celebrations.
And hours later, Celtic FC tweeted: “We’re not half of anything…not our problem.”
Last night, a Police Scotland spokeswoman commented on proposed gatherings at Celtic Park.
She said: “We are aware of these reports circulating online, however we would strongly remind everyone that in line with current Scottish Government Coronavirus regulations, all gatherings are currently prohibited and we would urge members of the public to comply with these restrictions.”
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