Borders football clubs face a longer seat on the bench
Football teams from the Borders face a wait of at least a further three weeks to find out when or if they’ll be allowed to resume their current seasons.
The Scottish Football Association this week issued an update on the suspension of the game below Championship level, in force since January 11, but only to say it’s not yet able to give a date for matches in lower tiers, such as the Lowland League and East of Scotland League to restart.Gala Fairydean Rovers and Vale of Leithen play in the former, while Hawick Royal Albert United and Peebles Rovers are in the latter’s Division One Conference B.An SFA spokesman said: “In recent weeks, we have engaged extensively with clubs and leagues affected by the suspension of professional football across the men’s and women’s game to discuss tailored return to playing plansfor implementation when it is considered safe and appropriate to resume.“We have also remained in regular dialogue with Scottish Government to ensure its input into and ultimately approval of those proposed plans.“Regrettably, the Government has confirmed that, in cognisance of the current restrictions in place across the country, it cannot currently commit to return dates for those affected leagues in the coming weeks.“We will continue to speak with all parties in the meantime and will provide a further update by March 1.
"This date should not be seen as a proposed restart date. However, it should help provide clarity to affected clubs to aid planning over the short term.
"While this is disappointing news, Scottish football will continue to play its part in assisting the Scottish Government’s efforts to reduce the prevalence of Covid-19 across the country.”
News of a lengthier spell on the sidelines came as little surprise to the quartet of main Borders clubs, who had mixed opinions on whether the season could resume.
One positive spin, according to Gala Fairydean Rovers chairman Ryan Cass, was that the weather had been consistently bad since Boxing Day, so very few games would probably be getting played just now, even if the country was not in lockdown. The Lowland League had rougly a 50-50 split between grass pitches and 3G, he said – and 3G surfaces were not all-weather.
Longer delays would mean an even greater clog-up of outstanding matches, added Mr Cass – so he was in favour of dividing the Lowland League into two once the midway point of the season was reached.
“I think the most probable scenario, from my point of view, would be to get to the halfway point of the season, which is about two or three games away, then split the league into a top half and a bottom half.
"The teams could play each other once and that would reduce the fixture list by six or seven. From there, promotion and relegation could be declared that way.”
The further deferral was “fully expected” by Hawick Royal Albert United player-coach Kevin Strathdee, who added: “I don’t think it’s going to change any time soon.”
Come March, he said, there would be very little time left to fit in outstanding fixtures, with Hawick RAU having played only eight league games so far.
“Realistically, I can't see the season being finished,” he said. “We are just running out of time.”
Vale of Leithen vice-chairman John Anderson added: "It was entirely expected – I don't think anyone expected to go back. It's not going to come back while the lockdown is still here; that was pretty clear. But the plan is to still complete the season in some form. Everyone is committed to that."
Peebles Rovers’ main concern at present was its crowdfunding project, as featured in last week’s Southern Reporter, aimed at rasing money to improve club facilities, while it would await further guidance on when to restart.
Chairman Colin Macdonald said the continued call-off came as no surprise and the club would await further guidance on when to restart, adding: “From Peebles’ point of view, we are taking a pragmatic view of it. We have our nose to the grindstone on this crowdfunding at the moment, so it's all hands to the pumps to get money coming in.
"We are being very pragmatic and we are being sensible with the approach. It's for the greater good and we'll batten down the hatches until we are told otherwise.”