The Scottish Government rejected a bid to allow 10,000 Rangers fans inside Ibrox to witness Saturday’s trophy presentation, the PA news agency understands.
Gers chiefs made the offer last month in the hope it would convince supporters without tickets to stay away from the stadium and avoid a repeat of the ugly scenes which followed when Steven Gerrard’s team clinched the Premiership title back in March.
With Hampden set to host 12,000 supporters at this summer’s European Championship, Rangers were hoping to secure permission to welcome similar numbers in through the gates of Ibrox to ensure the streets outside stayed empty.
The proposal would also have seen four more title parties held in the days after, each hosting another 10,000 season-ticket holders.
Their offer, however, was rejected by Holyrood chiefs who insisted they could not budge on plans to relax Covid-19 rules banning mass gatherings at that point.
Rangers’ party went ahead behind closed doors as captain James Tavernier and his team-mates celebrated the club’s first title in a decade following Saturday’s final game of the season against Aberdeen.
Outside, however, things soon got out of hand as an estimated 15,000 fans descended on Ibrox and Glasgow’s George Square, with fresh scenes of disorder taking place – including reports of fighting, public drunkenness and sectarian chanting.
Rangers chief executive Stewart Robertson laid out his proposal in a letter sent on April 21.
The Aberdeen game was due to take place just two days before most of Scotland moved into Tier 2 conditions, under which crowds of up to 500 were permitted, with event organisers able to apply for an increase.
“I’d be grateful if you could explore the possibility of us allowing some supporters into the stadium when we play Aberdeen on Saturday the 15th of May,” wrote Robertson in his letter to a high-ranking Government officer.
“As you know we are keen to ensure that we minimise the risk of crowds gathering outside the stadium or in other areas of Glasgow and Scotland on the day.
“We believe that we can have a better chance to achieve this if we were to be allowed to have fans in Ibrox Stadium to attend not only the match on the 15th of May but also on the days following the match when we could have players at the stadium to parade the trophy within the stadium.”
Robertson said Rangers felt their plans would “allow us to send a very positive and strong message to our supporters that only those with access on the particular day should be in the vicinity of the stadium”.
The club appealed for a “concession” on the Tier 3 ban on crowds at sporting venues based on falling Covid-19 infection numbers and rising vaccination rates, adding “the fact that the supporters will be outside” means “by the 15th of May the risk will have decreased even further”.
While Glasgow, in fact, learned on Friday it would be staying in Tier 3 due to a spike in cases brought on by the Indian variant, Robertson claimed the club’s offer was “a common sense, pragmatic way to minimise the number of people who will come out to celebrate the trophy presentation on the 15th of May”.
However, in a reply sent to Robertson six days later on April 27, the Government official spelled out the reasons why the proposal had been rejected.
“While we are making encouraging progress in suppressing the virus, we cannot jeopardise this with mass gatherings in breach of COVID regulations and public health advice,” they wrote.
“As you know, we are cautiously relaxing the restrictions which have been helping to keep people safe.
“From Monday, 17 May — the next significant relaxation of restrictions in Scotland — limited numbers of supporters will be allowed to attend football matches in areas with level 2, 1 or 0 restrictions. We expect the whole of Scotland to go into level 2 on that date.
“Unfortunately, no supporters will be permitted to attend any fixtures before that date. I realise that is disappointing in relation to your proposals for 15 May.”
Five police officers were injured and 28 arrests were made – with the force saying many more will follow.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon condemned the actions of those responsible as she hit out at the “disgraceful scenes”.
Tweeting on Sunday, she wrote: “To say I’m utterly disgusted by the Rangers fans who rampaged through the city would be an understatement.”
Sturgeon also called on the club to “reflect on what more must be done to tackle this behaviour by fans, albeit a minority”.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “At a time when people have missed funerals, not seen loved ones in care homes and had to postpone weddings, it is not right that we make an exception to the rules for football fans.
“There is a limit on group size because the evidence is clear – when large numbers of people gather in close proximity, there is an increased risk of Covid-19 transmission.
“That is why spectators have not been permitted in stadia up until Monday, when the restrictions were eased to allow no more than 500 people in level 2 areas.
“Rangers’ plans were submitted at short notice and requested permission for a crowd significantly higher than that number, which was refused because of the clear health risk it posed to the public. We also received advice that there was an increased likelihood that large numbers of supporters would gather outside the stadium if they knew some were permitted inside.
“Despite our clear public messages and continued work with the club calling on fans not to gather illegally in large numbers, the selfish and irresponsible behaviour seen on Saturday endangered the lives of others – supporters, the police on duty and the wider community.
“We have already discussed this with Rangers and are liaising with Police Scotland and the football authorities to consider what further action can be taken.”