35,000 Footballers Remain Stuck On The Side
The dreich weather didn’t appear to deter the 30 or so punters who had stationed themselves at random spots around the mucky football field. Cries like ‘affside ref!’ and ‘foul throw!’ roamed the afternoon sky through fierce Glasgow twangs.
It was amateur football at its finest, a raw local derby between two sides who didn’t like each other, scrapping it out on a heavy grass park in the wind and rain.
This scene would be repeated up and down the country on any given weekend, with Scotland having over 35,000 playing the game at amateur level.
For many of this number, playing on a Saturday or Sunday was the highlight of their week. An escape for a couple of hours and a chance to forget whatever else was going on in their lives.
Then the COVID-19 global pandemic hit and amateur football was brought to a sad and sudden halt.
So began a foray into the wilderness for grassroots football, where the only game being played was a guessing one.
When would it return?
Will season 2019/20 finish?
What about next season?
Would the amateur game return to any form of normality?
League associations, clubs, coaches and players all found themselves at the mercy of the Scottish Government as it fought the virus. Never had so many men, young and old, tuned in to First Minister’s questions.
The hope of a return
This was followed up by an update towards the end of the month as the world appeared to slowly recover from coronavirus.
The staged approach outlined at this time was as follows:
Stage 1 – Return to restricted contact training for adults
Stage 2 – Full return to contact training
Stage 3 – Local inter club match activity (including local friendly matches)
Stage 4 – Return to affiliated competitions
All was looking well. Lads began bravely returning to kit bags sat idle for the best part of six months – not a pretty sight (or smell!).
In early August, further detail was released by the grassroots sub group.
“It is important to note that the indicative date of 24th August for a return to contact training does not allow any full match play activity to take place at that stage. This stage may allow adult outdoor contact sports to begin along with increased group sizes for training. This will be followed by permission for local friendly matches and games to begin, however this will be no earlier than 11th September and finally a possible return to competitive matches with restrictions in place from 1st October. “
They had a start date. No matter how fragile, it was hope.
Clubs scrambled to arrange friendlies. Leagues began issuing fixtures. Players realised they better start shifting some lockdown pounds!
Throughout September there was a sense that, against all odds, the game had a serious chance. Yeah, things were different. Few would ever get comfortable changing in a car park and it was hard to imagine how these boys would fare doing so in the minus temperatures the winter would no doubt provide.
But in the main, everyone was happy as long as their fitba’ was back!
The 1st of October arrived and this was marked with details of stage three of the route map for the return of football being released by the governing authorities.
Teams now had games under the belt and had tasted life under the new conditions, with tiered matchday bubbles, risk assessments and COVID officers.
Unfortunately, as the month moved into its second week, it became harder to ignore the rising COVID figures and worrying language heard on the news.
There was an air of inevitability about it when, on 7th October, adult contact sport was again suspended.
So back to the pause button the game went, and it is here we continue to be, feeling like an unused substitute, sitting on the bench, grumpy, hard done by, wondering what could have been.