Scottish Premiership to stop for early winter break after Boxing Day games

Scottish Premiership to stop for early winter break after Boxing Day games

The Scottish Professional Football League has confirmed its top flight will halt after the Boxing Day matches, with a planned winter break brought forward by two rounds of fixtures. The change means the season’s second Old Firm game, scheduled for 2 January, is due to take place on the evening of 2 February.

SPFL clubs have been involved in talks after Nicola Sturgeon, the Scotland first minister, announced only 500 spectators could attend matches from 26 December inclusive.

Ten Scottish Premiership clubs – Rangers and Ross County the exceptions – had indicated they would support the move announced on Wednesday night by the SPFL. It means neither the Old Firm match nor the Edinburgh derby will take their traditional new year slots but both will remain live on Sky Sports, with Hibs at home against Hearts on 1 February.

Celtic, Hearts, Dundee United, Hibs, St Johnstone, Livingston, Motherwell, Dundee and Aberdeen had publicly called for games before the winter break to be rescheduled. St Mirren had a request rejected by the SPFL to postpone the match on Wednesdaylast night against Celtic because of Covid issues among players and staff.

The league warned clubs during talks late on Tuesday that Sky places a value of about £500,000 on any “lost” fixtures. The SPFL hopes playing on Boxing Day – when Celtic’s visit to St Johnstone will be on Sky – affords it a little more date leeway, with the league restarting in the week commencing 17 January. Celtic will host Hibs on that date. Previously league games were due to end on 3 January and restart on 26 January.

The dates situation was complicated by the ongoing involvement of Celtic and Rangers in European competition and that Uefa does not allow leagues to schedule top-flight television matches against its own tournaments.

On Wednesday the league asked clubs to state their preference between carrying on to the planned break date, stopping games after Boxing Day or stopping immediately. Conscious of club sentiment but also the potential for serious fixture congestion into the new year, the SPFL executive recommended clubs choose the second option.

The league’s board, which includes representatives of Rangers and Ross County, confirmed its decision in a statement. Rangers are yet to offer public comment but in front of fellow clubs they questioned the point in advancing a shutdown with the supposed peak of the Omicron variant’s impact a number of weeks away. As things stand Celtic and Rangers could be missing key players on 2 February because of international call-ups.

The lower three Scottish divisions, which do not have a winter break, have voted to continue amid the crowd restrictions. Meanwhile, Hearts’ will hold their Boxing Day game against Ross County behind closed doors at Tynecastle rather than admitting 500 spectators.