Borders football bosses have their say on suspension

The views of Borders football chiefs from the Lowland and East of Scotland Football Leagues, over the Covid-linked three-week lay-off for Scottish football below Championship level, largely mirrors those of their contemporaries from around the country.

Friday, 15th January 2021, 3:55 pm
Kevin Strathdee of Hawick Royal Albert United, left, in action against Glenrothes (archive picture by Bill McBurnie)

Others believe the suspension would have come anyway, after concern over rising numbers of Covid-19 cases in Scotland and the risks presented by travelling around the country.

With the exception of two divisions in Scotland, football has been shelved until January 31 at the earliest, as the game’s authorities battle against the escalating threat of Covid-19 and its impact at all levels of the national game.

On Monday, following a meeting of the Scottish Football Association’s board, and talks involving the Scottish Government’s joint response group, it was agreed to impose a temporary suspension of all football beneath the Scottish Professional Football League Championship, encompassing all predominantly part-time tiers of the Scottish professional pyramid.

Chief factors in the decision involved increased positive cases across the country and the interests of public health, taking account of the Scottish Government’s wish to reduce travel and possible contact with others while safeguarding the commercial broadcasting contracts that sustain the professional game.

Affected leagues are League One, League Two, Scottish Women’s Football Premier Leagues 1 & 2, Highland League, Lowland League, East, West & South of Scotland Leagues, Scottish Junior FA Leagues and the North Caledonian League.

Based on the imperatives of acting in the best interests of public health and participant safety, while ensuring professional clubs’ survival, the Premiership will be exempt from the suspension, provided it continues to adhere to stringent testing protocols.

The Championship will also be able to continue, provided it commences weekly polymerase chain reaction testing.

The suspension will be reviewed on a rolling basis by the Scottish FA Board, with the Scottish Government. The Scottish Cup will also be suspended, with any matches scheduled before February 1 to be rearranged in due course.

Colin Macdonald, recently-appointed chairman of Peebles Rovers, who are in the East of Scotland’s Conference B, said Celtic had let down the smaller clubs with their recent warm-weather winter training trip to Dubai.

He added the larger clubs really ought to set an example, when the small teams had tried to follow Covid-19 regulations as diligently as they could.

Kevin Strathdee, player-coach with fellow EoS Conference B side Hawick Royal Albert United, said he wasn’t surprised by the stoppage but felt there could be a lengthy lay-off.

“Everybody’s health is more important than football but, for it to be stopped, I think a couple of the lads are a wee bit disappointed,” he said.

Everyone at Albert Park was abiding by the rules but Kevin said he was aware of the growing concern about travel around the country and rising numbers of cases.

“In theory, I thought the break was coming anyway,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s been affected by what others have done as well because it was always going to come to a point where they would stop the lower leagues first anyway.”

Kevin is unsure if the season will resume properly after the lay-off.

“Obviously, we need to get by and hope the numbers go down and everybody is safe but, if we get to play football, it’s a privilege, like many others as well,” he said.

“The main important thing is getting the numbers down and everybody abiding by the rules. For me, personally, I find it hard that to believe we’ll be playing football again any time soon.”

At Gala Fairydean Rovers, where they have enjoyed their best-ever start to a season in their history, chairman Ryan Cass said: “We realise it’s a massive issue with this new strain and it’s pretty worrying, so we totally respect the decision.”

However, the club was disappointed, he added, because the number of football players catching the virus was very low, while Rovers had worked very closely with the SFA, the Scottish Government and Live Borders to make sure they were safe on match days.

Mr Cass suggested suspending some cup contests or splitting the league into two halves, so that it might be possible to conclude the season once the lay-off was over.

A statement on fellow Lowland League side’s Vale of Leithen website said: “Naturally, everyone is frustrated.

“We understand the rationale behind this given the current circumstances.

“We hope the season will restart in February and we look forward to that.”