Suspension of lower league Scottish football extended to mid-February
Football clubs in the East of Scotland and Lowland Leagues, and their contemporaries around the country, will have a longer wait before a competitive ball can be kicked once again.
The Scottish Football Association (SFA) has today announced it is extending the shutdown affecting the national game, from Scottish Champinship level downwards, until the middle of February.
A temporary suspension until the end of January had been announced by the SFA earlier this month, in response to rising numers of Covid-19 cases and concerns about the risk of spreading the virus through travelling around the country.
This meant football in Ladbrokes Leagues One and Two, plus numerous regional, junior and women’s leagues around the country, plus the Scottish Cup, would be put on hold and some clubs would have to adhere to specific anti-coronavirus guidelines.
The SFA said it had been in “extensive consultation” this week with representatives of leagues and clubs affected by the temporary suspension.
A spokesman said: “This process has been beneficial in understanding the specific challenges faced by clubs at those levels within the men’s and women’s games – in particular, understanding the key components required to facilitate return to play within each competition when it is safe to do so.
“Given that current lockdown measures implemented by the First Minister will now remain in place across Scotland until at least the middle of February, the existing temporary suspension of football will be extended until midnight on Sunday, February 14. This affects leagues with predominantly part-time clubs – although a number of full-time clubs have been affected.”
The spokesman added: “The Scottish FA will continue to work with those affected to develop league and division-specific plans for a return to training and playing, including adequate training and conditioning time.
“Those circumstances vary across our game and will be kept under constant review, with any restart of the game likely to happen on a progressive basis. A further update will be communicated by Wednesday, February 10.”
Earlier, the 20 clubs in League One and Two submitted a document to the SFA proposing that they resumed training on February 15 and started playing games again on March 2, with the hope that the 27-game league campaigns and play-offs could be completed by the end of May.
The clubs also hoped to introduce weekly Covid-19 testing for players and staff, which would be reviewed at the end of March, cutting the number of people attending games, with no away directors and scouts allowed.
It was also suggested that clubs would be unable to use buses to travel to games, apart from individuals who had no alternatives, in an attempt to reduce the likelihood of transmission as a result of travel.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Cupfourth round fixtures scheduled for February 20 will not now go ahead, and all ties will be rescheduled and information communicated in due course.
Consequently, Saturday, February 20 can be released as a fixture date for league matches.
The SFA will continue to work with Scottish Professional Football League colleagues to accommodate the dislocated Scottish Cup fixtures when it is deemed safe and practical to do so.
Rod Petrie, Scottish FA president, said: “The conversations we have had with representatives from the clubs and leagues affected by the temporary suspension have been hugely beneficial.
“We have been able to communicate further the rationale behind the decision in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, while also hearing at first hand the most important issues facing clubs and leagues at each level of the game.
“We have also been greatly encouraged by the sense of togetherness shown by the clubs and the robustness with which protocols and measures have been implemented in the interests of player and staff safety within football.
“A number of initiatives have been suggested which may help to make the eventual return to playing efficient without compromising safety.
“The decision to extend the suspension is necessary given the Scottish Government’s own extension of existing lockdown measures. Football will play its part to support the collective effort to reduce the spread of the new variants of the COVID-19 virus.
“We are grateful for the input of all groups involved in our online discussions this week and we will continue to liaise ahead of our next public update on February 10.”
A number of non-national league clubs across Scotland, below Ladbrokes League One and Two in the football pyramid, have expressed doubt that they will be able to resume playing again this season, because of factors such as the expiry of players’ contracts, lack of training time, too many fixtures to fulfil, having to sustain strict anti-Covid measures, the physical risk to players, the time factor before the start of next season, and more.
Other clubs hope they will be able to return to action and have suggested measures such as cutting some of the local cup contests or reducing the number of competitive fixtures.
Principal Borders clubs affected by the closedown at present are, in the Lowland League, Gala Fairydean Rovers, Vale of Leithen and Berwick Rangers.
From the East of Scotland League First Division Conference A, Coldstream and Tweedmouth Rangers and, in Conference B, Hawick Royal Albert United, Peebles Rovers and Eyemouth United.