Iain McMenemy: Autumn could bring a sense of normality
As it stands, all four professional football leagues in Scotland could be back up and running by the middle of October. A formal Resolution (yes, another one) to restart in October has been sent around clubs in the SPFL Leagues 1 and 2 and I would predict that an overwhelming majority of clubs will vote positively.
We already expect the Scottish Premiership to start in August, and the Championship has opted for 17 October. It is looking highly likely that we’ll all be back by the autumn.
This will bring a sense of normality back to Saturday afternoons. How normal this is likely to be, time will tell. It would be a waste of time to try to predict what the world might look like at that point in time. Only weeks ago, many clubs were concerned about not being able to restart until 2021. Look how far we’ve come.
A week or so ago I suggested that we needed to revisit the testing regime that has been adopted across football. This is a point that I continue to press. I still think it is absurd that we do not regularly test frontline health or emergency workers, but asymptomatic football players are to be tested twice a week.
Surely we can’t stay in hotels and B&Bs, sit for an evening in pubs and restaurants, and congregate in a cinema, all without testing, but in order to play professional football there needs to be swab testing and decontamination tents?
I remain hopeful that the protocols in place will be relaxed for football, in the same way that they have been or will be for other parts of society.
When football in the Scottish Championship, Leagues 1 &2 returns in October, this will be based on a reduced season of 27 fixtures. This will mean an uneven number of home and away ties against opponents. In my opinion, this is a small price to pay in order to get our game back. That being said, if we are drawn against the stronger teams in our division for two away ties and only one at home, we’ll still moan about the unfairness. The gripes and the moans are part of football. We’ve missed that although we’ve had a good stab at bickering off the pitch.
The SPFL league secretary Iain Blair is the man that annually faces the daunting task of scheduling the fixtures. Not an easy undertaking at the best of times. Iain has already issued a warning about the congested nature of the fixtures this season and sent out a stark warning that clubs could face the prospect of playing four matches over eight days, more than once in the season.
Iain has set out the reasons why next season’s schedule is under such pressure, and this is in part down to the need to reserve dates to complete the cup competitions from last season and schedule the early rounds for next season’s cups. Add in a couple of dozen black-out dates for Fifa & Uefa matches and this explains why next season’s schedule is busier than a Bournemouth beach.
For those who feel we could easily have completed last season on the pitch by throwing those unplayed fixtures into an already over-congested new timetable, then hopefully they will finally come to the conclusion that it just wouldn’t have been possible without compromising the start to the next season.
I can only speak for my own club, and I know we are keen to forget last season, for reasons on the pitch and off, and we are itching to get the new season underway. It has been refreshing to be discussing new signings and start dates again; it is a welcome distraction from talks on temperature checks and social distancing.
The season usually kicks off with the Betfred League Cup competition. While this competition is usually compulsory to enter (who wouldn’t though?), this season it is optional. This is because it is likely to take place in October when teams across the Championship, Leagues 1 & 2 are just getting back after a prolonged break.
We will be entering the competition. We owe it to our supporters to give them as much football as we can manage. They have not only stuck by us during the pandemic, but they have dug into their pockets to help clubs stay afloat financially, and they have given up their time to help when asked.
We need to repay that debt by building a competitive team and giving them something to cheer for on match days. While we all look forward to getting back to playing, we can’t take it for granted that supporters will flock back into our stadiums when social distancing allows it. Some may be apprehensive about the virus. Clubs need to be able to demonstrate that they can deliver a safe environment. Then we need to get back to entertaining fans. But this is football, sometimes the “entertainment” doesn’t always include a win. Not knowing is part of the excitement. As the old saying goes, “it’s the hope that kills you”. But we keep going back for more.
Over the coming weeks, clubs will be signing new players. The race will be on to get the news out before it appears on social media. We will all start to feel that pre-season nervousness and excitement. We will all be asking ourselves if this could this be our year? It just might.
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