Hope for SPFL lower league restart 'sooner rather than later' but announcement rests in Holyrood hands

The decision on when Scottish football’s lower leagues and women’s game can return has been bounced back to Holyrood, the Scottish Football Association has said, leaving fans, players and clubs waiting for good news.

Coronavirus safefty measures being carried out before the Betfred Cup match between Inverness Caledonian Thistle and East Fife on November 14, 2020 (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)

March 1 was the most recent review date for the resumption on football outside of the top two mens’ leagues – the Scottish Premiership and Championship – all of which were placed in abeyance in early January after an upsurge of coronavirus cases.

The leagues, predominantly part-time, plus football in amateur, junior and grassroots levels and the entire Women’s Football set-up in Scotland were all postponed – as was the remainder of the senior Scottish Cup – with promises of reviews in February and then again on March 1.

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A return date was not forthcoming in this month’s update from Hampden and details are now awaited from the Scottish Government – and while there is optimism that the SPFL can resume, the opportunity to complete the truncated 27-game season in the allotted time frame reduces with each passing day.

SFA president Rod Petrie thanked clubs and league officials for their input to return plans which have ‘been shared with the Scottish Government and, while it has been positively received, we await a final decision from Ministers.’

League Two Stenhousemuir’s chairman Iain McMenemy is optimistic a return is still possible – but urged the decision-makers to make an announcement sooner rather than later. He said: "We remain confident that we will get back playing because there is an acceptance that all the measures being taken to suppress the virus are working. We just need to get that decision as soon as possible to enable us to complete the calendar we have all signed up to.

"A decision sooner rather than later would be extremely beneficial for football clubs.”

A shortened season for all divisions outside of the Premiership kicked off in October, with the remainder of the SPFL scheduled on a 27-match campaign, but various call-offs followed by January’s decision has meant some League One and Two clubs have only played EIGHT matches so far. Premiership and Championship clubs avoided a suspension so long as a testing regime was in place – but SPFL Leagues One and Two clubs, the Lowland and Highland Leagues, SWPL and football at junior and grassroots level have all been out of action since January 12 with the end of season intended to fall on Saturday, May 1 and more than half a season still to play.

Mr Petrie added: “We are grateful to all leagues, clubs and participants affected by the temporary suspension for their patience and understanding during this period of uncertainty. They have played their part in keeping the nation safe and restricting potential spread of the virus.

“I would also like to thank the representatives from those leagues and clubs, who have been proactive and collaborative in giving their input into safe and sustainable plans for a return to competition.

“These plans have already been discussed with government officials. We look forward to hearing when and in what circumstances those leagues which have been suspended can return to training and, ultimately, to playing.”

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