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Sigh of relief for Ulster’s Celtic and Rangers fans

Northern Ireland fans of the Old Firm can breathe a sigh of relief today after it was confirmed that the full Scottish Premier League card of six games would go ahead this weekend.

Celtic host Inverness tomorrow while Rangers travel to Dundee United on Sunday.

Thousands of Ulster-based supporters had feared their travel plans would be thrown into disarray by the referees’ strike.

The phones have been busy at the home of the Scottish Football Association as referees from across Europe were asked to take charge of this weekend's fixtures.

SFA chief executive Stewart Regan had to cast his net far and wide after Scotland's category one referees confirmed they would withdraw their labour for one weekend.

However, after four days of making contingency plans, the SFA confirmed that all six games in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League, the three scheduled Scottish Cup replays and Sunday's ALBA Challenge Cup final will go ahead as planned, as well as the Irn-Bru First Division match between Morton and Falkirk.

The Israeli and Polish football federations have confirmed they plan to send officials with countries such as Portugal and Malta also reportedly co-operating.

“We have gone all across the UEFA area,” Regan said.

“I don't think the nationalities are an issue. What is important is that they are FIFA-listed, category one referees of the highest standard in their own countries and they are more than capable of refereeing in Scotland this weekend and have received SPL approval.

“But certainly every UEFA organisation was on our list.”

Asked specifically about Portugal and Polish referees coming, Regan replied: “I can confirm that they are on the list of UEFA nationalities that we have looked at.

“I don't have the list of exactly who is going where and where they have come from.”

It is believed that the cost of bringing in officials to cover the 11 matches will be around £30,000.

However, a blank weekend, with the loss of two televised games, Dundee United versus Rangers and Motherwell's home match against Hearts, could have cost the SFA more than £200,000.

“There will be costs involved with flights, hotels and so on,” Regan admitted. “But the priority has been about fulfilling the fixtures for the benefit of fans, the media and sponsors and I'm delighted that I have been able to fulfil so many matches this week.”

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