THE First Minister on Wednesday raised some concerns about travel from Scotland to Blackpool, with evidence from the Scottish Government’s Test and Protect programme seemingly suggesting that hundreds of coronavirus cases were linked to the Lancashire seaside town.

A specific warning was reserved for football fans, some of whom it appears had planned to travel to Cumbria to avoid the current restrictions in place across Scotland’s central belt which mean pubs are shut.

Tomorrow’s game, the first between Celtic and Rangers this season, is hugely significant, with just one point between the Glasgow giants. Stadiums have been closed for months and now that pubs in the central belt have been closed too, many people are worried they won’t get to see the match.

I understand just how frustrating it is for fans at the moment, as they just want to watch their teams play. But with the game due to be broadcast on Sky, only those with a Sky Sports package will be able to see the Celtic-Rangers match on TV.

It’s almost inevitable that some will try to circumvent the restrictions to see the game – whether by going to a pal’s house or heading to a pub outwith the restricted areas. Let’s be clear – the restrictions are in place to protect us from the virus and people shouldn’t be looking for ways round them.

But we should make it easy for folk to abide by those rules. That’s why I’ve called on the Scottish Government to make representations to Sky Sports and the SPFL about showing the game on free-to-air TV.

I’m confident the overwhelming majority of people will continue to follow the rules as they have throughout the Covid-19 crisis but broadcasting the game free would allow everyone to watch at home, reducing the possibility of people heading out to watch and potentially spreading the virus.

Over the past seven months, many businesses have been hard hit by the restrictions that have been so necessary to tackle the virus. Small businesses in the tourism and hospitality sectors in particular have been hit with multiple restrictions and on the whole, they have implemented them with little complaint, and with good humour, for the greater good.

We’ve heard repeatedly throughout this crisis that “we’re all in this together” so wouldn’t it be nice to see a big company such as Sky agree to take a hit to make sure everyone can watch the game at home?

My call has now been backed by Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard and by the First Minister who said yesterday: “I would encourage Sky Sports this weekend to make the Rangers v Celtic match free to view for supporters as a small but important contribution they could make to helping keep people safe right now.”

A few fans of other clubs have been in touch since I made the suggestion, asking why the Glasgow pair deserve special treatment. It’s a fair point, and while the initial reason for my suggestion was purely to reduce the possible transmission of the virus, I do think there’s a strong case for more games to be shown on free-to-air TV, particularly at a time when grounds are closed, and supporters have nowhere else to watch games.

I’ve previously called for Scotland’s men’s games to be shown on terrestrial TV as England matches are (on STV!). It’s been great to see Steve Clarke’s team pick up some tremendous results lately but again unless you’re a Sky Sports subscriber you’ve been unable to watch.

It’s also good to see that BBC Alba and BBC Scotland are broadcasting Scottish Women’s Premier League and men’s Championship matches this season. But with different competitions being broadcast across a range of paid-for platforms, I think it is fair to ask what more can be done to make matches available to more people, particularly during the pandemic.

I think there’s an important conversation to be had, too, about the positive role Scottish football plays in our culture, our economy and, particularly at a time when many of us are unable to visit with friends and family because of important public health restrictions, the role it plays in supporting our mental health.

Too often when football is discussed on the political stage we just discuss the bad bits. And while there are undoubtedly issues to tackle, it’s important that we don’t underestimate the good the game can do.

So, let’s hope Sky Sports listen, and that everyone gets to watch a good game in the safety of their own homes. And then let’s talk about how we can support the game to continue to support us through this difficult time.