Semi-pro clubs and managers call for suspension amid Covid fears
The Scottish Football Association is under increasing pressure to suspend the semi-professional game amid growing concerns about coronavirus.
Football’s governing body has made no changes to its definition of ‘professional’ since the new national lockdown was announced on Monday, meaning around 250 clubs across the country from League One in tier three down to regional leagues in tier seven of the pyramid are unaffected.
But Lowland League side Dalbeattie Star are calling for the current season to be suspended until the coronavirus pandemic in the country is brought under control. Several clubs have suspended training and the North Caledonian FA has put training and matches on hold until next month.
Dalbeattie Star said in a statement today: “We are classed as elite professional players but no provision is available for Covid testing at our level. We do however query the professional status as we are a part-time club and all players have other careers out with football.
“Like all clubs in the league we would love to be able to be able to complete this season in a timely manner but the safety of our committee, management team, players and of course the people of our local community is of more concern than football at this present time.”
Manager Ritchie Maxwell, who works for the NHS, said: “With the situation we’re in, I don’t see any other option but to postpone it at our level. Where teams are full-time and that’s their job and can maybe afford testing, that’s a way they can potentially continue.
“Lower down the leagues, where it’s part time, boys have got other jobs and we’re not getting tested I think, unfortunately, the only sensible thing to do would be to postpone for a period of time until we can get back on top of things.”
Three other managers and one assistant manager – one from at SPFL club – have told The Scotsman that the semi-pro game should now be stopped.
One of them told us: “It is absolutely shocking. It doesn’t sit right with me at all, but I don’t feel there’s a lot I can do bar go along with it.”
In addition to the four SPFL divisions, the Lowland, Highland, South, East and West of Scotland Leagues plus all six junior divisions and the North Caledonian League have all been allowed to play behind closed doors and under Covid-safe protocols since mid-October.
Mandatory testing is only carried out in the Scottish Premiership, however, and the growing number of outbreaks at full-time clubs south of the border is causing alarm.
Aston Villa closed their training ground on Thursday after a “significant” outbreak on the eve of their FA Cup third-round tie with Liverpool.
An outbreak at Shrewsbury means their tie with Southampton on Saturday is off, while Derby County’s entire first-team squad are self isolating and will also be miss their tie, with the training ground being closed.
Without any update from the SFA this week, some semi-pro clubs and leagues in Scotland are taking matters into their own hands.
Nairn St Ninian, who play in the north region junior league, have suspended training and matches, while the North Caledonian FA has announced the immediate suspension of training and matches for its member clubs until February 6.
South of Scotland League clubs are understood to be considering a suspension, with St Cuthbert Wanderers cancelling training this week on player welfare grounds, but East of Scotland League administrators agreed at a meeting last night to carry on until told otherwise.
Frazer Brolls, manager of South of Scotland League Abbey Vale, said: “As a SOSFL manager I’ve always tried to get boys along to the club to enjoy playing football and give them an escape from work or home life. Asking them to risk their health and potential two weeks’ wages was never in the script. It’s time for common sense.”
The North Caledonian FA said in a statement: “Although our association has an exemption from the Scottish FA and Scottish Government to continue playing, we believe that in light of tighter restrictions and an increase in cases locally, that pausing our schedule is the correct decision at this time to help safeguard the vulnerable communities our teams belong to.”
The SFA was approached for comment.