The lower reaches of Scottish football: How has Coronavirus impacted the players?

by Campbell Finlayson

The Scottish Premiership has been back since August with the other three divisions of the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) all returning in early October.

Daily tests and health checks have made it possible for players at those levels to get back to some form of normality, but at the lower levels of the Scottish game, things haven’t been as easy. I got the views of three people involved in Scottish football at a lower level, to explain what the Covid-19 pandemic has been like for them.

Amateur referee and current manager of Dennistoun Thistle, Chris Irving, explains just how tough it was to cope with the lockdown of his side’s games. “I found it tough, personally, for about a month because I was constant. I was seven days a week, I was working, I was going to the gym after work. I was maybe refereeing a couple of games, I was managing, coaching, doing the training on a Tuesday. I’d have a game on the Saturday morning with the team then I’d go to ref on the Saturday afternoon, I’d ref on a Sunday.”

“So, from a mental health point of view, from somebody that’s got mental health issues I don’t mind telling you that, it was tough, very tough.”

The Scottish Women’s Premier League (SWPL) began the 2020 season in February, but only one set of fixtures were played before the season was halted by the pandemic. The campaign was deemed null and void and eventually it was decided that it would be moved to a winter campaign beginning in October.

For the players, going so long without football was extremely tough especially given the escapism from life it can bring, as Kilmarnock Women midfielder Rebecca Galt says: “It was hard because a lot of people use football as for mental health as a sort of escape mechanism. That’s what I use football for if uni is too hard or work is too hard, it’s just a nice place to relax and take a break.

“All your focus then is winning the game or having a laugh at training and working hard so having that completely wiped out your schedule every week for seven months, it’s just ridiculous. You get stuck in a cycle of being bored and then you’re trying to do workouts and stuff like that and it’s just not the same, it doesn’t give you that sort of satisfaction.”

Graeme Hart also spoke about what impact the virus had on him when it took away his football, saying: “It (Covid) kind of put a halt to my life really. I rely on football quite a lot, it’s kind of my stress relief as such. When lockdown came about it was hard for the first couple of months and then once it returned it was good.”

The striker then also moved clubs which is hard at the best of times, but even more so during a pandemic, explaining: “I moved from Forfar West End to St Andrews and going into a new team and new environment, it was quite stressful, with all the restrictions in place and stuff. It was massive for my life and my wellbeing, the mental side of the game I didn’t actually think about it until lockdown came about and how much I actually rely on football being a part of my life.”

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