The Amateur Games New Rules
Autumn time in amateur football is arguably the finest period you can experience as a player. The competitive stuff starts, the nights roll in and the fair-weather players begin to slowly vanish, not to be seen again till late March.
Traditionally, you can get to the end of October having played very few league games, as the first three months of the campaign are littered with cup ties from countless different competitions. You may have played the first couple of games in the national cup trophies and, if lucky enough to still be in one or even both, would usually around this time be getting excited about the potential for a far-off away trip that involves a bus trip and a return home swally – no matter the result!
Those days seem like a lifetime ago!
12 months is a long time in football and unfortunately the amateur level is now sauntering into an eighth month without any competitive action in most leagues around the country.
The game has flattered to deceive on its restart a few times but is still none the wiser as to where it goes from here.
It seems to be a question of if it will return, not when.
Taste of the action
It seems now that the three or four weeks afforded to the game at this level from mid-September to early October was something of a false dawn. A hope that has cruelly been snatched from grasp. Like chatting up a burd at the bar only for her to go with someone else – so I’ve heard.
So, let’s just assume at this point that September was the game’s only remaining taste of football for 2020. How much did it differ from the same time last year?
Players, coaches and committees returned to an amateur scene almost unrecognisable to the one they had left in March. New rules, restrictions and regulations meant that everyone associated with a club was on trial from a government it seemed just looking for an excuse to shut the game down.
The main new requirement that had everyone talking was the changing rooms situation, or to be more accurate, the lack of changing rooms situation.
Players were being asked, no, being told, that if they wanted to play, they had to turn up and meet at the car park, where they would be given a strip and required to change either on the tarmac or in their car. This was manageable in the mild conditions that September offered, but at a stretch. Players were expected to do the same upon completion of the match, with no shower or cool down offered, just in the car and home as quickly as possible.
Traffic light bubbles
The next protocol placed to create a bubble-like safety net on the game was the creation of the red, amber and green zones around the pitch and venue. These were broken down like this:
Red Zone (on pitch) – Only 22 players and the referee are allowed in this area. No one else is allowed here. If physio needs to come on for any reason, they must wait for the referee to tell them it is safe to do so.
Amber zone (touchline) – No more than 9 subs are allowed in this zone, and maximum 4 coaches. Only registered people can be here, and everyone must be 2 metres apart. Subs need to be spaced apart, not bunched together. Absolutely cannot have spectators in this zone. If a member of the public decides to attempt to stop and watch, the Covid officer must politely ask them to remove themselves. If they refuse, then please report this after the match.
Green zone (facilities, car park etc). All members of the football team are allowed here.
This was when the matchday bubble was 49 people (two squads of 24, plus the ref). As the 2nd wave began to take hold, Sport Scotland, the government, and the SAFA held countless meetings, with the amateur association fighting hard to keep the game alive.
On the 28th September, another meeting was held, and the number was cut dramatically to 38, with only the home team required to provide a COVID officer and the referee being another. Meaning teams could only have a football team with 18 lads, including coaches! This was barely sustainable for clubs with even medium sized squads (rumour has it Sport Scotland wanted to either bin the whole season or make the bubble 31!).
The nominated COVID officer that was mandatory for each club was perhaps the most thankless task in this new age. Simply put, he or she had to play the bad guy. It was they who were responsible for all safety measures pre, during and post game time and it was they who could cancel, postpone or abandon a match if it was felt regulations weren’t being followed.
Other instructions included refs no longer accepting any paper team lines or even paper money, players restricted from travelling to games in the same car and all equipment such as nets, balls and goals to be sanitised at full-time. Clubs were told police would also be conducting spot checks to ensure all rules were being followed.
It’s hard to imagine if it was ever realistic for all these rules to be followed to the letter of the law if the season had managed to get going. I guess we may never know. One thing is for sure, that first sip of beer on a 12-hour Scottish Cup tie in 2021 will be the sweetest one of all.