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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 30 September 2020

Agenda: Point of Order, Portfolio Question Time, Supporting Students through the Global Pandemic, Family Care Givers, Agriculture Bill, Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Albion Rovers FC (Mark Millar Donation)


Contents


Albion Rovers FC (Mark Millar Donation)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-22644, in the name of Fulton MacGregor, on Mark Millar’s donation to Albion Rovers Football Club, in relation to Covid-19. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament commends the Coatbridge-born international comic writer, Mark Millar, for donating £18,000 to Albion Rovers FC to invest in the Pixellot streaming system at Cliftonhill Stadium in Coatbridge; understands that this is a first in Scottish football and believes that, with help from the football authorities, other clubs are due to follow this lead; notes that the first competitive game to be streamed is set to be against Stenhousemuir FC, which was also involved in the launch; acknowledges that this initiative will allow clubs in the lower professional leagues of Scottish football to continue to generate an income and fans to take in live games while restrictions are still in place and in light of the potential for these to continue for some time as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic; thanks Mark for his initiative that has the potential to bring positives to fans, clubs and local communities, and wishes him well in this and future endeavours.

18:12  

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

It gives me great pleasure to open the debate. I thank all members who signed the motion for the cross-party support that it has received. I declare an interest as a relatively recent member of the board of the Albion Rovers communities trust and I am also the convener of the cross-party group on the future of football in Scotland.

There will be two main strands to my contribution. First, I will highlight the amazing gesture from Coatbridge lad, Mark Millar, to his local team and all the work that has gone into making the live streaming happen; secondly, I will consider the wider implications and benefits of live streaming for Scottish football in the Covid-19 environment.

As the motion highlights, after some hinting tweets earlier this month, the big announcement was made that Mark Millar had donated money to Albion Rovers to invest in the Pixellot streaming system at Cliftonhill stadium. Many members know who Mark Millar is. He comes from Coatbridge and is now an international comic book writer and Hollywood director; his works include “Ultimate X-Men”, “Wanted” and “Kick-Ass”. Despite his fame, Mark has never forgotten his Coatbridge roots and is often involved in community initiatives, particularly in the Townhead area, where he was raised. He and his wife, Lucy Millar, have set up the Millar Foundation charity to help redevelop and regenerate the Townhead area.

When Covid-19 hit, like so many of us across the country, Mark started to think about the plight of his local club, which, in his case, is Albion Rovers. Local football teams are a lot more than the game that they play on a Saturday. They are often the lifeblood of our communities and offer so much to so many people and it is vital that such issues are debated in the chamber. The Rovers is no different and I can testify to the supporters trust’s on-going work with schools, the memories group for older fans, festive activities and the buddy group.

Ronnie Boyd, a previous Rovers chairman, reminded me today how widely accepted it is that Scottish teams rely on gate money more than any other teams in Europe.

In March and April, Mark linked with Stenhousemuir chairman and all-round good guy in Scottish football, Iain McMenemy, to talk about ways for clubs to generate revenue through these hard and difficult times. Iain told me that Stenhousemuir did not want to sit back, helpless, in the lower professional leagues, so went about developing an idea to stream games live, using the Pixellot system. Twenty-four clubs have now adopted that system and a few others have identified other ways to stream. Mark was keen that Albion Rovers were at the front and centre of that, so he made the donation to the club and linked with its stalwarts, Eddie Hagerty, Ronnie Boyd and the director, Alison McGowan, to get the ball rolling.

Liam Nugent, the chief executive officer of we.soccer, also became involved after Mark Millar alerted him to the developing situation. We.soccer is an app and website software product that was created in Scotland, with the ambition to modernise match coverage in Scotland and beyond by capturing and publishing reference level data for all grass-roots football matches across the world. It is currently used by Aberdeen Football Club Community Trust, which covers 300 schools in the north-east of Scotland, and by the English Independent Schools Football Association. It was also being trialled with referees in the Scottish Women’s Football League until the forced break in play that Covid-19 caused.

Albion Rovers and Stenhousemuir are using the app in tandem with the Pixellot camera systems to support social distancing in match administration. By using the software, teams can submit their team line-ups to the referee remotely and without using paper copies.

Pixellot and we.soccer are a great example of innovation during the public health crisis. I thank those who have trained to use the software; there are too many to mention but I give a shout out to Daniel Mossie and Ben Kearney at Albion Rovers. Again, that demonstrates that, as we know, volunteers will make it work.

What does all that mean for the longer-term sustainability of the game? There has been a lot of talk about the future of the game and, although we need fans to come back, we need to be realistic at this time. Covid-19 cases are on the rise again, and the indications are that we are in for a tough winter. I hope that we will avoid a full lockdown of the sort that we had earlier in the year, but it is reasonable to guess that, in the coming weeks and months, restrictions are more likely to be tightened than eased. For Scottish football teams at lower professional and grass-roots level, that could mean a large chunk of the season with no, or a limited number of fans. Without intervention, that will be disastrous for the clubs.

When I spoke to Paul McNeill from the Scottish Football Association, he made it clear that the situation is dire. He talked about the impact that no funding will have, not just on the teams’ players and management, but on their community involvement. He told me that some clubs are having to look at redundancies or reducing the delivery of community projects, such as community teams, mental health groups, walking football and so on.

Clubs have been relying on efforts such as fundraisers to get them through. Jordan Campbell, who is a fan, set up a great fundraiser for Albion Rovers, but that situation is not sustainable. The things that I have described demonstrate that football is more than a game and means so much to communities, so sustainable solutions must be found.

Is live streaming that solution? It would be income for the moment and, importantly, it would help fans to get through these tough times. It would also be an income for the longer term, because it would allow fans who live away from the area or country a chance to support the team in a practical sense.

Along with Paul McNeill from the SFA, we have a meeting with the minister scheduled for next week, so that we can take forward issues that were raised at the most recent cross-party group meeting. At this stage, I have two main asks of the minister and Government: to give serious consideration to supporting clubs, in a practical sense, to do live streaming; and to consider a funding pot or other resources that clubs in the professional and grass-roots game can access to help them survive.

The beauty of funding something like that is that it is sustainable. Helping clubs to take care of themselves will ensure that they and all grass-roots clubs are there at the end of the crisis. We need them to be there, because they are our communities. Many helped out at the start of the Covid-19 crisis and now they need our help. Football will evolve; although I do not want to sound like a “Jurassic Park” quote, it will find a way, but we need to help clubs to reach that goal. Future generations depend on what we do in the middle of this pandemic, which is the biggest challenge of our times.

Mark Millar, a boy from Coatbridge, has given us a springboard and potential solution to get our clubs through the crisis and revolutionise football in Scotland for the future. Let us come together, grasp the opportunity and ensure that Covid-19 will not break those integral institutions within our communities but make them stronger.

18:19  

George Adam (Paisley) (SNP)

I thank Fulton MacGregor for bringing the debate to the chamber. As he said in his speech, it is a debate about not just our national sport of football, but how our community teams can thrive and survive in this worldwide pandemic. As a football fan and self-confessed comic-book geek, I welcome Mark Millar investing money in Albion Rovers. However, not every team in Scotland has a Mark Millar who can provide that level of funding.

Football is an important part of my life. We have to remember at this time that football is an important part of our community life and of Scotland—for all the good and the bad, football identifies who we are and mirrors the country. Bill Shankly’s great quote,

“Football is not just a matter of life and death: it’s much more important than that”,

seems shallow in these times of Covid-19. We need to worry about that because football without fans is a sad place; it is a sad world when you cannot go to watch your team on a Saturday afternoon, shout, moan and possibly drown your sorrows after the game because your team had a difficult yin.

Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

Especially this Saturday.

George Adam

My team played Kilmarnock on Saturday and that is why we have just heard from Mr Coffey—they beat us.

We have to deal with the here and now. Fans will not be at a game of football for a while yet—possibly not even this season. If there is a return of fans to football, we will have to think about how that can be done in a safe manner. At the moment, we cannot guarantee that. How do clubs continue and ensure that they have revenue? In Scotland, unlike in England, 70 per cent of club revenue comes from bums on seats in the stadiums. Football needs to address and deal with that problem.

We need to support the clubs, too. Streaming the games, as Fulton MacGregor’s motion suggests, is the way forward. That can be the income stream. I am the convener of St Mirren fans’ trust, which is the biggest shareholder in St Mirren Football Club. We played a midweek game against Celtic and, had that game been in the stadium full of fans, we would probably have made about £10,000 to £12,000 less than we did. Streaming it at £12.50 a shot made us more money than it would otherwise have done—I cannot give you the figures. Not everyone will be playing Celtic or Rangers every day of the week, but we can make it work.

Everything is relative. Albion Rovers’ finances and budget is relative to the league it plays in. I see that David Torrance is here—Raith Rovers’ budget will be relevant to the league that that team plays in, as is Kilmarnock’s and St Mirren’s in the premier league. If the clubs can find a way to make it work, they can generate the revenue. I agree with Fulton MacGregor that there needs to be something along the lines of a Government loan scheme at least, or some form of grant at best, for the smaller clubs to get investment to set that up. Then they could start earning the funds that would make the difference. The money is not there to do it in the championship and leagues one and two, but we can give them the opportunity to do it.

Let us not forget the importance of football teams in our communities and the work that they have done during the Covid crisis. St Mirren FC got players to phone up fans to ask whether they were okay during lockdown. Other clubs did the same. They have been an important resource as we have gone through this difficult time.

Football without fans is not normal, but this is the new normal. We need to ensure that the clubs get an opportunity to create funds and generate the money that they need to move forward. We have to ensure that there is some way for us to support our football teams. They are important to our communities and to the people who elect us to the Parliament and they will not be playing in stadiums soon. We need to ensure that ideas such as streaming football are supported and that clubs are able do all that they possibly can. Football teams and the Government must work together and say that we know that our national game is important to us. We must ensure that, come the other side, our football clubs, which have served our communities for more than a hundred years, are still there.

18:25  

Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) (Con)

As a native of Coatbridge, I have particular pleasure in congratulating Fulton MacGregor on lodging an encouraging motion for debate.

The generous donation of £18,000 to Albion Rovers Football Club from Coatbridge-born international comic book writer Mark Millar has, without doubt, helped to provide financial security for the club, as it moves forward.

This is a challenging and worrying time for Scottish football, with Covid-19 causing complete disruption to every aspect of our lives. Football is our national sport, and it plays a huge role in people’s lives here in Scotland and throughout the United Kingdom. The restrictions on attendance at football matches have therefore been a heavy blow to football supporters and the clubs that they support.

Who would have believed, when Albion Rovers Football Club and its loyal fan base celebrated the centenary of its Cliftonhill stadium with a photography exhibition at Coatbridge’s Summerlee museum, that one year later the ability of those same supporters to enjoy and attend home matches would cease completely, as the result of a global pandemic?

Despite our having come out of lockdown and the lifting of other restrictions, there are still no fans to spend money on tickets at stadiums, to travel to away games and to use the hospitality facilities. Sadly, that equates to a vast cut in funds for football clubs across Scottish leagues. Smaller clubs such as Albion Rovers have been hit particularly hard, because they do not have access to the same funding as the teams in the higher leagues of professional Scottish football.

As a consequence of the pandemic, new technology is now a central part of our lives—for work, study, keeping in touch with family and friends and, notably, to continue to enjoy watching sport. The funding from Mark Millar has allowed Albion Rovers to access and start using Pixellot technology, which many organisations use to stream good-quality coverage of a range of sports, live and on demand. The technology will help to earn the club much-needed income, while allowing fans to watch the club’s games when it is not possible for them to be physically present in stadiums.

Other funding successes have included the club’s application for a fixed grant of £50,000 distributed by the Scottish Professional Football League Trust, which has been funded to the tune of £3 million by Edinburgh businessman James Anderson. The funding was put in place to help Scotland’s clubs to cope with the adverse consequences of the pandemic. Albion Rovers has used the funding to improve disabled access. That will, crucially, help more fans to attend in person, in due course, and will thus boost the club’s income. In addition, as recently as last Saturday the supporters club’s application for a licence to run the online Wee Rovers lotto was granted, which is great news.

There is clearly huge good will towards Albion Rovers. However, what the club really needs is to sustain its long-term viability by translating that goodwill into getting more supporters through the door to boost return from tickets and spending in the hospitality facilities. I hope that the debate will go a considerable way towards raising awareness of that, and I again congratulate Fulton MacGregor on bringing the debate to the chamber.

I conclude by wishing Albion Rovers the best of luck in their match against Stenhousemuir Football Club on 17 October, when the new Pixellot technology, financed by Mark Millar’s much-appreciated donation, will be put to very good use.

18:29  

Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

I congratulate Fulton MacGregor on securing the debate, and I congratulate Albion Rovers on having received funding support from Mark Millar and securing its new Pixellot streaming system at Cliftonhill, in Coatbridge. I also pass on my best wishes to my football club, Kilmarnock Football Club, after hearing today’s news that three staff—possibly players—have tested positive for coronavirus. I wish them a speedy recovery.

All sports worldwide, from the small youth clubs to multimillion-pound establishments, have suffered during the pandemic. As football fans, we have found ourselves at a loss, wondering when we will ever be able to properly see our teams in action again.

It is great to hear about cutting-edge digital technology such as the Pixellot system, through which high-quality sports coverage can be streamed into our homes. I have seen the Pixellot system on YouTube, and it looks really impressive. The company has more than 8,000 installations in more than 30 countries worldwide. The system can be used in a variety of ways, including as a broadcast platform for us to watch a game at home, and by coaches, who can use it for tactical analysis. The software also allows real-time zooming in and panning of the action, so that we can all check for ourselves whether the referee got decisions right. Who needs a video assistant referee when we have Pixellot?

One of the other keys features of Pixellot is that clubs can overlay advertising graphics to help them to generate more revenue. My goodness—football needs all the help that it can get at the moment. All in all, Pixellot looks like a great system, so well done to Mark Millar and Albion Rovers for establishing it for the fans.

I contrast the Pixellot system with the Scottish premiership solution of using the Stream Digital platform, which I have used to watch a number of Kilmarnock games. Most of the premiership clubs have provided their television broadcasts to their fans as a “Thank you” for their support in purchasing season tickets. I have also purchased some away-game teams’ pay-per-view sessions, although I usually have to mute the biased commentators.

However, it is interesting that the service seems to be restricted in terms of how many fans can buy a subscription for a given match. I understand that when a match is broadcast live, a limit is applied to the numbers who are allowed to buy it on the Stream Digital platform—there can be no more than the number of the club’s season-ticket subscribers for that season. If that is true, I hope that the broadcaster will reconsider, because we need as many people as possible logging in and buying match subscriptions. Surely, it is better to find ways to get more fans watching football than to place restrictions on them to keep them out. With the prospect of supporters not being able to get back into the grounds soon, any mechanism to get more cash into our football clubs could be a life saver.

I understand that Falkirk Football Club also operates Pixellot, so I am hopeful that I will be able to experience the system in real time when Kilmarnock plays Falkirk next Tuesday in the Betfred cup. No offence to my Falkirk friends, but I am hoping for a rerun of our 1997 Scottish cup clash, and a win for Kilmarnock.

Through the pandemic, and for the foreseeable future, it is imperative that those of us who love the beautiful game can continue to support our football teams as much as possible in order to protect not only their history, but local jobs and the local economy. Digital technology could be a life saver for many Scottish football clubs by helping them to survive.

Once again, I congratulate Fulton MacGregor and Mark Millar, and I wish Albion Rovers all the very best, not only in this venture, but in the difficult future that lies ahead.

18:33  

Elaine Smith (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I congratulate Fulton MacGregor on securing the debate.

Mark Millar’s donation during these difficult times will be a great help to Albion Rovers. By helping clubs to receive regular income at a time when financial restraints are so great, the state-of-the-art Pixellot streaming system will not only allow loyal fans to watch their team play from the comfort of their home, but will give the Wee Rovers, Stenhousemuir and the other clubs that have signed up the opportunity to lead the way in an exciting project that could even change how people watch football for years to come.

As Mark Millar mentioned when he introduced it, an important point of the project is that fans will be able to watch their team play at an affordable price. For a sport that seems to be losing touch with the working class that played such a huge role in giving it the platform that it has today, it is encouraging to hear that prices will be affordable, and that the system will be available to fans across the world. That means that those who cannot watch Albion Rovers in person can now do so on the high-definition streaming system.

That will be very good news for my godfather, John Logan, who moved with his wife Eileen and family to the States many years ago, and currently lives in Maryland. John was a professional footballer, latterly with Dunfermline under manager Jock Stein—another Lanarkshire lad who played for Albion Rovers and who, of course, managed Celtic’s 1967 European champions team, the Lisbon Lions. John fondly recalls as a boy taking his wee brothers, Joe and Terry, to Albion Rovers games—with money that had been given by his mum to take them to the pictures—then marching down Coatbridge Main Street behind the brass band after the games.

Sadly, the current Covid restrictions mean that supporters of football teams in lower divisions have not seen their teams play in six months. On that point, I hope that members will support Richard Leonard’s call for an emergency fund to be set up to help grass-roots and lower league football teams to compensate for lost income.

For many people, watching organised sport is not just a hobby; it is where they meet friends. Losing that social connection has undoubtedly impacted on people’s mental health. Mark Millar should receive our gratitude for what I believe will be a positive change that will bring people closer to their beloved teams, even if, for now, it will not be in the environment of a football stadium.

Mark Millar has had a wider impact on the Coatbridge community with previous endeavours, and he has been a comrade of mine for many years. Although Mark has been very successful in the film industry, we see from the investment in our local football team that he has not forgotten his Coatbridge roots and that he is committed to tackling the poverty and injustice that many people in our community face. Another example is the Rainbow family cafe, which Mark set up in Townhead last year. Every penny that is made there is reinvested in the community to help children and young people in Townhead to access facilities and resources such as are enjoyed in more affluent areas.

Yet another Coatbridge project with a Mark Millar connection was the upgrading of the Monkland canal, which was a vital community asset during the Covid lockdown. In 2009, I invited Steve Dunlop, the then chief executive of what is now Scottish Canals, to Coatbridge to see how we could improve the canal as a community asset. That led to the Monkland canal steering group and a substantial commitment by North Lanarkshire Council to redevelop the canal basin. The canal towpath along to Bargeddie was also improved to allow access for leisure activities. The work was completed in 2011, and the Blair bridge gateway—which was made by another acclaimed Scottish artist, Andy Scott—pays homage to Mark Millar’s comic book work, with designs that were taken from a project with local pupils at Mark’s former school, St Ambrose high school.

When I helped to unveil the gate and canal upgrade at the opening ceremony with Mark Millar and Councillor Jim Brooks, I could not have imagined that, nearly a decade later, that very walk would help my health and wellbeing during the lockdown. I have been in touch with the new chief executive of Scottish Canals, Catherine Topley, to discuss much-needed improvements to the canal that I noticed during my walks.

Just last year, Mark Millar bought 200 tickets for a screening of “Toy Story 4” in the local Showcase cinema, and every ticket was given to young people in the very scheme in Townhead where Mark grew up. My uncle John Logan would have been able to go to the pictures and access the Rovers game if someone like Mark Millar had been around then.

I again congratulate Fulton MacGregor on securing the debate. Mark Millar’s service and commitment to the Coatbridge community are clear. His recent pandemic-inspired investment in Albion Rovers Football Club only adds to that. I am delighted that Parliament has been able to debate tonight the important contribution that Mark has made, and continues to make, to our town of Coatbridge. I am pleased that I have been able to contribute to the debate.

18:38  

Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

I congratulate Fulton MacGregor on securing this important debate, and I congratulate Albion Rovers and Mark Millar on such an innovative project. In 2017, when I did the pipeathon around all the senior football clubs in Scotland, I was struck by the sense of community in every club, and not just between clubs in certain areas—there was a whole sense of community. The clubs realise that they are all in this together in Scottish football, irrespective of whether they are small or large. The projects that we are debating will be hugely beneficial for Albion Rovers and will safeguard the club’s future as an on-going entity.

I will touch on a couple of brief points. The debate is extremely useful and helpful, and I hope that it will lead to a wider debate in the chamber about the future of Scottish football. It is clear that Covid has had a hugely negative effect on football, as well as on every other aspect of society. I raised a question about football with the First Minister last week. We would all accept that there is no big pot of gold that the Scottish Government is sitting on that can be put into Scottish football clubs—it is just not there. The actions of the Scottish Government, which is putting pressure on the UK Government to establish a fund to try and help clubs, are hugely important.

I want to highlight one of the confusing elements that comes up when we talk about football. Looking at the folk who are in the chamber, we all support smaller teams—I say that advisedly to my colleagues whose teams are in the Scottish premiership. None of us here supports either of the old firm teams or the teams from Edinburgh, or Aberdeen. We understand how important every single pound is for our clubs. When there are deals taking place that may involve a player being purchased for £20 million or £15 million—or even more, depending on the club or the league—many people in society will wonder, “What are these folk talking about?”, because they believe that there is plenty of money in football.

George Adam

It pains me, as a St Mirren fan, to say this, but is it not the case that the community work done by Greenock Morton is among the best in the country at the moment and that, if that was not in place, there would be issues for Stuart McMillan’s community?

Stuart McMillan

I absolutely agree with my friend from Paisley, the St Mirren supporter. That is both you and me finished now, George.

The issue of the importance of community clubs is there for anyone to see, in particular for people who support the smaller teams. However, that message about the clubs as community assets still has to get through. It is not just about the economy; there is a social ethos—those clubs bring a social thing to their communities.

Not every club has the same amount of money as Manchester City, Barcelona or Inter Milan. Clubs in Scotland do not have that money. Projects such as the one that is happening at Albion Rovers are hugely important. It is not about allowing a club to thrive; it is about allowing a club to survive through the Covid pandemic, which is clearly going to last for quite some time.

Fulton MacGregor

The member mentioned Rangers and Celtic. Does he recognise that a late chairman of Albion Rovers, Gordon Dishington, said that we have to accept that most people in local towns support the bigger teams, but he always hoped that they would lend their secondary support to their local team? Will the live streaming of games present an opportunity for that to happen, so that a Rangers, Celtic or Man United supporter might sometimes say, “You know what? I’m going to watch my local team this week.”

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Please be brief, Mr McMillan. The minister and I would like to get home before bedtime, if that is okay.

Stuart McMillan

I whole-heartedly agree with my colleague Fulton MacGregor.

I will wrap up now, Presiding Officer. Once again, I congratulate Fulton MacGregor on securing the debate and enabling us to have this discussion in the chamber.

18:43  

The Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing (Joe FitzPatrick)

I thank Fulton MacGregor for bringing the debate to the Parliament, and I thank members for their contributions from across the chamber. I am delighted to close for the Scottish Government. I look forward to meeting Fulton MacGregor and Paul McNeill next week to discuss some of the issues that Fulton has raised today; I know that he has a few other issues that he would also like to discuss.

The impacts of Covid-19 have been felt by everyone and by every sector across Scotland. The sport and physical activity sectors have been hit particularly hard, and football, our national sport, is sadly not immune. Along with my ministerial colleagues, I fully appreciate that the restrictions that have been introduced to minimise the spread of the virus have had a major impact.

Although life should not feel normal at the moment, I know that it is painful not to be able to see loved ones in person or to take part in activities that we all enjoy. Football is one of those activities that countless people in all our constituencies enjoy playing and watching. The SPFL Premiership has resumed behind closed doors, and a couple of successful test events involving a limited number of supporters have been held, ahead of a possible wider return. However, because of the recent resurgence in positive tests, we have had to pause the easing of restrictions.

The First Minister has expressed her thanks to everyone who has played their part in restricting the spread of the virus, and I echo those remarks in thanking everyone in sport, in football and more widely who is following the changes. Please stick with it.

Together with sportscotland, the Scottish Government is continuing to work with partners to understand the pressures that people are under and how we can help them. I know that football at all levels is suffering, and I know at first hand that football is not just an activity that involves 22 players for 90 minutes on a Saturday afternoon. Clubs of all sizes across Scotland play an important part in their community. As George Adam and Stuart McMillan said, they deliver a range of activities for all ages, whether through the football fans in training project—I am pleased that we have been able to further support that—employability and education programmes, or lunch and breakfast clubs. The breadth and depth of activity is amazing. Over recent months, football has continued to inspire and help those who are most in need in communities across Scotland.

Because football grounds are closed or there are no supporters at games, clubs are experiencing a significant loss of income. I know that football in Scotland is more dependent on supporters. It has the highest level of attendance per capita in Europe, with gate receipts accounting for 43 per cent of revenue, which is almost three times higher than the European average. I made that point—which Fulton MacGregor and others echoed—to Iain Stewart, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, when I met him in the course of the past week. That is why I have written to the UK Government to seek an urgent discussion about a financial recovery package for football and other sports. I am pleased that, today, the UK Government has made a positive announcement, and I look forward to discussing the matter further with Nigel Huddleston, the UK Government’s sports minister, when I meet him in due course.

It is important to remember football at all levels, including our grass-roots clubs and our women’s game. It is also important to recognise that other sports, such as netball, basketball, rugby and other spectator sports have been severely impacted. The Scottish Government will continue to work closely with the governing bodies of football and other sports to ensure that we can maintain their long-term sustainability. I will discuss that with the Scottish FA and the SPFL again when I meet them in the very near future.

Stuart McMillan

The vast majority of clubs in Scotland are smaller clubs. Has the Government considered allowing a small number of fans to go into the stadiums of smaller clubs? For example, the capacity of Morton Football Club’s ground is 11,000 but, usually, only about 1,800 fans would go to a match. Even a capacity of 10 per cent of the usual maximum would be useful in helping clubs to survive through the Covid period.

Joe FitzPatrick

I can confirm that my officials are continuing to work to find a way of getting fans back through the gates but, obviously, we can allow that to happen only when it is safe to do so. We are considering a range of mechanisms that might give us the confidence to allow some fans to attend football matches in safety. I am absolutely mindful of the pressures on clubs at all levels.

We also recognise that fans not being able to support their local team will have a significant impact on them, and I am delighted to recognise the initiative that is being undertaken by Albion Rovers FC through the support of the renowned Scottish comic book creator Mark Millar. As Fulton MacGregor and Margaret Mitchell said, the installation of the Pixellot streaming system is a significant step forward in using technology to allow fans to watch their favourite team play from the comfort of their own homes.

Elaine Smith’s points about affordability were very well made. Streaming matches is becoming more popular; previously it required expensive equipment and trained staff, which meant that it was a non-starter for smaller clubs such as Albion Rovers. The new system allows games to be played while state of the art cameras cover the action from all angles. Not only will that allow clubs to generate some income by charging fans to stream matches—I am told that, in some cases, that is quite significant for the income that clubs can bring in—but it will provide a useful tool for coaches, who will be able to use the footage to analyse their teams’ performance.

I note the points that Willie Coffey made about restrictions in that system on the number of streaming tickets that can be sold being limited to season ticket holders. That will have a different impact on different clubs; some clubs have very large season-ticket fan bases, while for others that is less significant. I will take that issue away and explore it at the meeting with the SFA and SPFL that I will have soon. I thank Mr Coffey for raising that point.

Before the recent increase in positive coronavirus cases, it was envisaged that spectators would be allowed back into grounds with an indicative date of 5 October. However, that has had to be put on hold and the First Minister will provide an update on that tomorrow. I realise that that is hugely frustrating and disappointing Margaret Mitchell called it a “heavy blow”, and it will have a significant financial impact on clubs and local economies. However, public health will continue to be our top priority. As I said to Stuart McMillan, we will continue to look at options for how we can get fans back through the gates safely when it is safe to do so.

Across the country, coaches, personal trainers and clubs have been using a variety of online platforms to host training sessions and fitness classes, allowing athletes to practise their skills at home and enabling clubs to engage with each other. The streaming platform will provide another opportunity for clubs to engage with their supporters.

It will not be much of a surprise to anyone that, as a proud Dundonian, I will not lose any sleep over the result of the Albion Rovers v Stenhousemuir match, but I will be very interested to hear how the streaming went and how supporters reacted to it. That reminds me of when I joined Stuart McMillan at both Dundee United and Dundee FC when he did his pipeathon. That showed the real sense of community from both those clubs, which is echoed across Scotland.

I am sure that the SFA, the SPFL and clubs will be interested to hear how this innovative project will progress and I am sure that both clubs would welcome the opportunity to share their experience of piloting the new and exciting technology.

I have gone over time. I thank members for the debate as well as Albion Rovers and Mr Millar for making the initiative happen. I wish both teams good luck in the kick-off when it comes around.

Meeting closed at 18:52.