Elgin City could return to action in October, but chairman Graham Tatters is warning of the difficulties posed by Covid testing, travel restrictions and players refusing to play
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ELGIN City chairman Graham Tatters does not expect all 42 SPFL clubs to survive the effects of the Covid-19 shutdown.
And when football does eventually return for Scotland’s lower league sides, Elgin themselves face a major struggle to meet all guidelines and ensure player safety.
Coronavirus testing of every player will take place before every training session and match, while travel to away matches presents a major headache to City due to social distancing measures which will remain in place for the foreseeable future.
The latest attempt at league reconstruction failed to gain support from Scotland’s clubs, and a 14-10-10-10 league set-up was thrown out in favour of maintaining the current 12-10-10-10 structure.
The result of that was relegation for Hearts, Partick Thistle and Stranraer, although the former two have launched a legal bid to try and get their demotions overturned.
In the meantime, Premiership clubs are planning for an August 1 start behind closed doors, offering virtual season tickets to supporters to watch live streamed matches.
Teams in the Championship have voted to begin their season on October 17, playing a reduced 27-match programme.
It is expected that Leagues One and Two will follow on a similar schedule, and Tatters is preparing his club for the pitfalls which lie ahead.
“Our biggest worry is bringing everybody back, which we have to do after October and then playing behind closed doors for a period of time when all it is going to do is drain every bit of finance we’ve got,” he said.
“I will be surprised if all 42 clubs come through this. It will be really difficult.”
Tatters is grateful to the furlough system running until October, potentially saving City from going under. They have 12 players signed for next term and are committed to keep paying them throughout the football shutdown.
Another life saver for Elgin and so many of their SPFL rivals was the £3 million donation made by Edinburgh philanthropist James Anderson to help keep clubs afloat during Covid-19.
The Borough Briggs outfit have already applied for their £50,000 share of the grant, which stipulates clubs must have strong community links – which Elgin does.
But Tatters said players have every right to refuse to play for safety reasons, and highlighted some of the restrictions which will pose major problems to his club.
“We have to ask the question but some players might not want to play in this situation,” he said.
“You have to think of your family, there’s loads of scenarios and you can’t criticise anyone who doesn’t want to risk it…
“Testing is no joke either. I was talking to Steven Ferguson up at Ross County and he was saying it is going to be really difficult for a part-time club.
“Firstly, we don’t know if we are going to have a place to train because you don’t know if the local authority is going to open up the sports facilities.
“Secondly, it is going to take an hour to two hours to test people by the time you wait for the results. As a part-time club you have then got to train for two hours. So you taking anything up to four hours and then the guys have got to get home.
“Stevie told me Ross County were there two hours before the start of training, then they are allowed only one player per quarter of the pitch. So that’s four players on a full pitch and they had to cut all the pitches into quarters with the coaches shouting from the sidelines.
“Also, where are we going to test? We’ve got guys in Dundee, Arbroath, Glasgow, Dingwall and some in Elgin. We’ve got to have a big think about it and see how we go.”
Tatters said the advice of SFA doctor John MacLean suggested that Covid-19 testing will remain in football for a long-term period.
The Elgin chairman hopes the SPFL will confirm an October start for all three lower leagues, with the Betfred Cup also beginning that month, giving clubs some much-needed sponsor revenue.
He believes it may be December before crowds will be allowed back at Scottish games, although this has yet to be confirmed.
Manager Gavin Price will also need cash to strengthen City’s squad. “We have sat down in Zoom meetings on five occasions and tried to give the manager a budget and we just can’t do it,” Tatters added.
“Nobody knows how many games we are going to be playing and how people are going to get to games. You will need two buses and that is doubling the costs. If you use cars you’ve multiplied your expenses, maybe five times more.
“You can’t make big decisions without the information that you require. It’s not a guessing game, you just want your club to survive.”
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