A group of Aberdeen players have earned a stinging and unprecedented rebuke from Scotland’s first minister after the postponement of Saturday’s Premiership match at St Johnstone. Two players at the club have tested positive for Covid-19 and a further six are in isolation, having visited a busy bar in the city centre following defeat by Rangers on the opening day of the season last weekend.
After a Thursday night statement insisting the St Johnstone fixture could go ahead, the Scottish Football Association and Scottish Professional Football league confirmed on Friday the game was off following further talks with the Scottish government. This marks a highly embarrassing episode for Scottish football, with its executives having pushed hard to resume competitive games and hoping to allow supporters back in the near future.
The city of Aberdeen has been subject to emergency coronavirus restrictions following a surge in cases. Nicola Sturgeon warned in her daily briefing that the players in question had jeopardised the Scottish game’s return after only one game of the season.
“It is now clear the players visited a bar,” the first minister said. “In doing so they blatantly broke the rules, which to put it mildly is completely unacceptable. High-profile players in a city bar also bring the risk of attracting crowds. That was not responsible behaviour.”
Sturgeon said such actions “put at risk the return of the game” and added that she was “pretty furious” over the affair and that “all bets are off” if anything similar happened in future.
With direct reference to the postponement, Sturgeon added: “I think that is the right decision. When a football club ends up with players infected – not through bad luck but clear breaches of rules – we cannot take even a small risk of spread to other parts of the country. To say this deeply regrettable is an understatement.” The match was due to be broadcast live on Sky Sports.
In a statement, Scottish football’s joint response group said: “Given the overriding responsibility to public health, the subsequent advice and discussion with the minister this morning means that the joint response group must adhere to the request to postpone the match.”
The Scottish Premiership season has been thrown into turmoil before a second round of matches has been played. It is unclear whether Aberdeen’s hosting of Hamilton on Wednesday or the trip to Celtic next Saturday can take place. Isolation periods for the players in question range from 10 to 14 days.
“I’m not going to speculate on future fixtures,” said Sturgeon. “My concern is not having this virus spread. If there is even the merest chance of taking this virus from one part of Scotland to another, I’m not going to take that.”
After months of rancour relating to the ending of the 2019-20 season, the SPFL had met its agreement with Sky to start the new campaign on the first weekend in August. Speaking on Saturday, the SPFL chief executive, Neil Doncaster, admitted there was only one spare fixture window in the season. There will be, inevitably, a rising sense other clubs should not be penalised for an issue specific to Aberdeen. As an overhang from last season’s discord, the SPFL board failed with a motion aimed at affording themselves increased powers for coronavirus-related matters.
Aberdeen had already promised a full investigation. In a video on social media, the club’s chairman Dave Cormack asked for “patience” with the players, and said everyone “is prone to errors of judgment”.
St Johnstone said: “The club is disappointed at the news of this postponement but the health and wellbeing of everybody is of paramount importance in this situation.”