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Julian Taylor

Lennon's fantasy of having supporters back for the Old Firm derby will never come true

Julian Taylor


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Celtic manager Neil Lennon wants fans back as soon as possible (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Celtic manager Neil Lennon wants fans back as soon as possible (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Celtic manager Neil Lennon wants fans back as soon as possible (Andrew Milligan/PA)

As domestic football across Europe returns in various forms following the international break, the hollowed-out, devastating effects of Covid-19 can, once again, be seen.

Stadiums are, literally, sanitised. No one wants to get even remotely used to the idea of a fan-free zone either. But this is where we are - and especially in Scotland, a football environment lingering in the last-chance saloon.

Players, managers and supporters all yearn, naturally, for an end to this awful state of affairs. Looking ahead, Celtic's hopeful drive towards an historic 10th successive title could be played out for much of this season in front of skeletal numbers.

Neil Lennon has been angling for a return of fans, in limited numbers, ahead of the first Old Firm game of the season on October 17. While every manager wishes to gain advantages, the Celtic boss is currently living far more in hope than expectation.

Yesterday's test events where there were 300 home fans in attendance at both Ross County, who hosted Celts, and Aberdeen against Kilmarnock is a start, although there is a compelling argument that the numbers involved are insufficient in the ongoing quest to edge football stadiums back to anything resembling 'normality'. A four-figure crowd would have been a better gauge of temperatures at this point.

Furthermore, with Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, insisting that Scottish football is on the periphery at the moment - we can thank eight irresponsible Aberdeen players and Celtic misfit Boli Bolingoli for that - there is, in reality, no chance of Celtic Park opening the turnstiles for any number of spectators for the crunch showdown against Rangers.

In public health terms, there is simply far too much at stake. Can you picture an attendance of 17,000-18,000 - the ball park figure Lennon quoted from watching Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL - sitting on their hands and staying mute behind masks at an Old Firm derby?

The notion is utterly fanciful. Lennon's frustration is understandable - but, like all walks of life, he is going to have to be patient as none of us have any control over the uncertainties of a pandemic. Wearily, as if it has to be said again, some things are more important than football.

Ironically, there is one club who have benefited, albeit temporarily. Ross County earned a greater windfall for yesterday's 5-0 deafeat against the Scottish champions via pay-per-view TV than they would have through the combined income of several thousand travelling Celtic supporters.

Lennon, meanwhile, is still looking to strengthen, despite already splashing out around £14m on Albian Ajeti, Shane Duffy (on loan), Vasilis Barkas and David Turnbull. Such money shows the intent from all at Parkhead to deliver 10 in-a-row.

Although Celtic have goal potential spread throughout middle to front - so key in the club's ongoing dominance - thoughts are turning towards fresh dynamism. The Hoops' reported interest in QPR flyer Bright Osayi-Samuel is intriguing and it speaks of their intensive knowledge of players who are potentially running down their contracts.

Prior to his move from west London to Glasgow last November, chief scout Gary Penrice played a key role in QPR's signing of Osayi-Samuel from Blackpool three years ago.

Having observed Osayi-Samuel closely last season, he is a player who favours the left side of midfield, almost an auxiliary winger. A supplier rather than a scorer in general, the 22-year-old is more of an impact operator at Loftus Road - a role Lennon possibly has in mind for him at Celtic.

Osayi-Samuel is impressive in zipping past full-backs, but there is room for improvement with his end product. It would, of course, be ironic if QPR boss Mark Warburton, the ex-Rangers manager, ends up watching one of his stars leave for nothing in January to old rivals.

In the meantime, Celtic should have enough to see off crisis club St Mirren on Wednesday. Saints have, incredibly, three goalkeepers absent due to Covid-19 and have brought in Hearts' Zdenek Zlamal as an emergency loan.

Their normal first choice, Jak Alnwick, has been in excellent form and his absence may help Celts to get ever closer to Rangers at the top of the Premiership.

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