COVID-19

Scotland’s lower leagues: Perspectives on the effect of the coronavirus pandemic.

By Ben Kearney @BenKearney0

Scotland’s lower leagues will suffer beyond repair – if heavy restrictions remain in place, says Albion Rovers manager Brian Reid:

Brian Reid of Albion Rovers on matchday one of the SPFL season, Ben Kearney Photography

“It’s farcical to be honest, I just can’t understand how supporters at our level of the game cannot be allowed into matches. We get around 200 fans every second week, they could proabably fit into our stadium distancing at five metres.

He added: “At this level fans are everything and without them I don’t know how we will survive. So much has been done to livesteam matches and source other inlocme but it can only go so far.”

It’s not only the supporters who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, players have also been impacted by not being able to play football for a prolonged period. Although professional football can continue – once again the grassroots game has been halted for most.

Chris Irving manager of amateur side Dennistoun Thistle has seen the toll it has took on himself and his side: 

“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. I was constant before this, going to nothing at all is hard.

With the new five-tiered level system of restrictions coming into place in Scotland, Chris is not optimistic about the likeliness of a return to playing soon:

“Since we have been back ,the atmospheres been dead becuase we don’t know when we will be back. If you’re asking me as a layman do I think we’ll be playing this side of Christmas? No. What does that mean for our leagues – who knows.”

In the women’s game, top level fixtures fall under the professional element and football has returned for some teams, but being back playing after so long is not simple. Dundee United defender Georgia Carter – who also coaches the girl’s and women’s academy, has admitted its been tough:

Georgia Carter is also one of 20 Scottish FA Youth Ambassador’s of Change, helping to involve young people in decision making at the highest level. Twitter: @ScottishFA_YAOC

“Everything being put on hold was difficult. Players have basically missed out on a year, for ones who were jumping up a level especially. It’s hindered the development of most. 

She added: “The girls would be a lot further forward had this not happened.” 

You would be forgiven for thinking that those able to play football again are in a perfect position, but Georgia admits its not been as easy as that. With a lack of competitive football players are taking longer to get back to their maximum performance levels: 

“Now we’ve back a while you do notice things. Like you know how to do things in your head but you just cant execute it properly and it’s quite frustrating. You keep making these mistakes and it plays on you.”

Ayr United defender Finn Ecrepont, on loan at Albion Rovers, has a positive outlook on the return to football and the current situation even with the ‘strange feeling’ of being back. 

Finn Ecrepont of Albion Rovers stands ready to take a throw in, Hampden Park, Ben Kearney Photography.

“I just think we are footballers, it is our job to play. We owe it to the fans to play to our highest level and win. It is tough, when you are losing in a game the support being there can really make a difference. 

He added: “If we stick to the guidelines then we are doing all we can do. It’s hard knowing something outwith your control could self-isolate you and take you out of the team. I think we all need to work together and be happy we can step out onto the pitch and play.

You can listen an extended interview with Georgia here:

If you are involved in football and feel you need someone to talk to, here are some organisations:

https://www.c9foundation.com/

https://pfascotland.co.uk/Advice/PFAS-ADVICE–Mental-Health/

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