Hibernian chief executive Leeann Dempster says that it would be unrealistic to expect the latest coronavirus cases in Scottish football to be the last as clubs get used to players being forced to sit out matches due to the pandemic.
On Thursday, St Mirren manager Jim Goodwin confirmed that goalkeeper Jak Alnwick had tested positive for Covid-19. Then, later on that evening, the club announced that a second Saints player had also tested positive, throwing Saturday’s match against Hibs into doubt.
Alnwick is now in quarantine, while his flat-mate, Hamilton Accies defender Lee Hodson, is also having to isolate for 14 days.
Stressing her desire to see the game go ahead, Dempster warned it is unlikely that this will be the last case to threaten fixture disruption.
“Clubs can carry out regular testing ahead of matches and we can comply as robustly as we like with all the rules and regulations around sanitisation, social distancing, etc, etc, but we are all kidding ourselves if we think we are in an absolute bubble, because we are not.
“Players and staff, we all go home to partners or spouses who work in different places, and to kids who are back at school. Like everyone else footballers and their families have to go to the supermarket or the post office, and while everyone is as careful as we possibly can be, there are no guarantees.
“We carry out testing so we can continue to play the games but this idea that we are in a bubble is just not accurate so we are all going to get players testing positive, not through any reckless behaviour, but because they are normal citizens and they have a life outside of football.”
Hibs were without summer signing Alex Gogic for their recent match against Aberdeen after he returned a false positive but was still obliged to isolate and Dempster accepts that while it is not ideal, football simply has to accept the extra inconveniences as it fights back to normality.
Those plans suffered a setback yesterday as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that the provisional date of 14 September, set aside to consider allowing fans back into football stadia, has now been pushed back to 5 October, at the earliest. Although, it has been agreed to allow pilot matches, permitting 300 supporters into this weekend’s Aberdeen v Kilmarnock and Ross County v Celtic games, to proceed.
The Scottish Government had already imposed tighter lockdown measures throughout Renfrewshire this week in response to a spike in cases and had knocked back the Buddies’ bid to be part of this weekend’s scheme for the limited return of fans as a consequence.
The latest announcement has put paid to Hibs hopes of running their own test event, possibly against Rangers next weekend.
“Let’s be honest, I think we were all looking forward to the opportunity to get fans back into the stadium and we were gearing up to try to do a pilot event ourselves, maybe next weekend,” said Dempster. “But it was quite clear earlier this week that with everything that was happening, the signs were that that was increasingly unlikely.
“Honestly, I am maybe a little surprised that Aberdeen and Ross County have been allowed to continue with theirs. I am glad that is the case but given these announcements, I am a bit surprised.
“It is difficult and although I’m comfortable with where we are financially just now, the longer this goes on, the bigger the financial concern for some clubs, especially as we look towards the return of lower league clubs.
“But, it is hard for football to be too critical at the moment. We can be disappointed but, in the current climate, I am not agitating to get things moving any quicker because I think we need to be patient and follow the guidelines. Everybody wants the same thing but we need to make sure that the steps we take are the right steps.”
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