Clubs forced to scrap plans for pre-season football training

Pre-season training plans involving all adult Borders football teams, as well as the rest of those in Scotland below Premier League level, have been thrown into disarray by the repercussions of COVID-19 rule breaches involving Aberdeen and Celtic.

Pre-season training for a vast number of adult Scottish football clubs has been shelved until near the end of this month.
Pre-season training for a vast number of adult Scottish football clubs has been shelved until near the end of this month.

Local clubs in the East of Scotland League, Lowland League and Borders Amateur Football Association, along with many of their counterparts across the country, were looking to work on their pre-season practice programmes with full contact sessions, in accordance with Government safety guidelines, ahead of a hoped-for return to action in mid-October.

Instead, under new rules agreed by the joint SFA/SPFL Response Group this week, to prevent further coronavirus outbreaks, all adult clubs outwith the Scottish Premiership have been told to stop training immediately until August 24 at the earliest.

Frustration was expressed among some clubs over the fact they were apparently being punished for actions relating to two of Scotland’s most famous and senior teams, yet the SPFL was not affected by the ruling.

A statement on Thursday said: “The Joint Response Group outlines a wide range of measures agreed with the Scottish Government to reinforce Scottish football’s commitment to public health and adherence to protocols.

“These measures have been approved by the JRG and follow extensive discussions with Scottish Government Ministers and health advisers.They are as follows:

“Enforcement – The JRG has worked to ensure that existing rules will be strengthened to include the provision of sanctions for players who do not adhere to COVID-specific football protocols or government public health guidelines. This will encompass recent breaches and further details will be provided.

Evaluation – To provide government health officials with the necessary confidence that Scottish football can return safely and in accordance with relevant government guidelines and football protocols, the Scottish FA has agreed that the return to training for clubs outwith the SPFL Premiership – which includes all organised adult football over-18 - will be delayed until at least August 24, pending updated government guidance on the 20th. This is to ensure that:

All club facilities comply with the current JRG Protocols, social distancing and hygiene measures.

All club policies and procedures comply with the current protocols and government guidance.

Club testing regimes in the professional game comply with the protocols.

Players and staff at all levels of the game have been reminded of the latest government guidance.

Education – Professor Jason Leitch, the National Clinical Director for Scotland, has produced a video message outlining, in the clearest terms, what professional footballers can and cannot do within the existing government guidelines. This message will be reinforced on a regular basis via digital communication.

Engagement – The SPFL and Scottish FA have gifted Scottish Government advertising space to promote public health messaging on matchdays in-stadia, using LED advertising and via other owned assets for all SPFL competitions and the William Hill Scottish Cup semi-finals and final.

Rod Petrie, chairman of the Joint Response Group, said: “The message from First Minister could not have been clearer. The JRG must now ensure the planned resumption of football beyond the Scottish Premiership is done in a controlled manner, with the strictest adherence to protocols and guidelines.

“The pause on the return to training for the professional game outwith the Scottish Premiership will not impact on the proposed start dates of the respective league competitions but will give sufficient time to reinforce protocols, educate players and make sure of the ability of clubs in the lower divisions to conform.”

Neil Doncaster, SPFL chief executive, added: “Today’s measures underline the fact that Scottish football is doing everything it possibly can to protect our game. The recent, high-profile breaches must be used as further motivation for all those with our game’s best interests at heart to comply absolutely with these necessary restrictions and safeguards.”

The well-publicised breaches of the COVID-19 regulations began when eight Aberdeen players – Jonny Hayes, Michael Devlin, Scott McKenna, Matty Kennedy, Sam Cosgrove, Dylan McGeouch, Craig Bryson and Bruce Anderson – visited a city bar after a 1-0 defeat by Rangers on August 1. Two of the group subsequently

tested positive for Covid-19.

The players apologised but Aberdeen was placed back into a seven-day lockdown, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon “furious” with the players’ conduct.

Then Celtic defender Boli Bolongoli failed to self-isolate on returning from Spain before playing a 1-1 draw at Kilmarnock on Sunday.

Ms Sturgeon then issued football stars with a ‘yellow card’ warning, with the threat of a suspension of play across the board if the regulations were violated again.

Local clubs began communicating the message to their followers at the end of the week.

Eyemouth United, who are rejoining the East of Scotland League after a non-playing year’s absence, said on Facebook: “Following a meeting with the playing squad, and careful consideration from the management, we can confirm we will be postponing any further first team pre-season training forthwith.

“The SFA set out new guidelines which we simply can’t meet or guarantee to adhere to going forward, so we took the simple but sensible decision to put the brakes on for the time being.”

Stow AFC tweeted: “Training tonight has been cancelled. A lot of time and effort wasted due to people who should know better and are paid accordingly. Raging doesn’t cover it.”

East of Scotland League chairman John Greenhorn had earlier said there were reports and indications on social media of some East of Scotland clubs ignoring the conditions laid down by the Scottish Government and the Scottish FA on resuming training and playing matches.

“Particularly, given what has happened in Aberdeen, any reported breaches of the rules will almost certainly result in our restart being pushed back, and any clubs found guilty of this can expect to be severely dealt with,” he added.

The East of Scotland Football Association said via Facebook on Tuesday: “Everyone’s no doubt aware of expansive media coverage surrounding acts of stupidity on the part of highly-paid professional players over the weekend, acts which had the potential to jeopardise livelihoods and, indeed, others’ wellbeing.

”It’s assumed the overwhelming majority - supporters, players, management teams, club officials, whoever - have it in us as rational beings to conduct ourselves responsibly in these very challenging times. Emphasise, please, to anyone you know who might not yet have fully grasped the message, the importance of adhering to recommended guidelines. We need every single club to understand the reality of the situation, and comply fully with expectations.

If people do what’s required of them we have half a chance of, for one thing, spending our Saturday afternoons once again in the manner we enjoy most. Otherwise ... well, it really oughtn’t need spelt out.”

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