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Highland League football will embrace new protocol such as capped crowds and social distancing says league secretary Rod Houston

By Craig Christie

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HIGHLAND League secretary Rod Houston says past experiences will serve clubs well when increased levels of Covid protocol come into play this week.

Highland League football will continue over the coming weeks with attendances capped at 500 and social distancing in stadiums. Picture: Daniel Forsyth..
Highland League football will continue over the coming weeks with attendances capped at 500 and social distancing in stadiums. Picture: Daniel Forsyth..

Football attendances across Scotland have been limited to 500 with one metre social distancing as part of Scottish Government guidance in the effort to halt the spread of the Omicron variant.

Buckie Thistle’s match at Deveronvale yesterday was postponed due to Covid issues in the Buckie squad, with a similar situation emerging at Nairn County leading to their game at Fraserburgh being called off.

Players across the north will undergo daily lateral flow testing following new Covid protocol being implemented after a Highland League management committee meeting last Thursday.

Houston said attendance caps and social distancing at games should not have a major impact on matches in the north, and clubs had already gained good experience in dealing with restrictions in their grounds on match days.

“We had a fairly lengthy briefing from the Scottish FA on Wednesday which was basically JRG (Joint Response Group) information on the pandemic and the dos and don’ts,” he said.

“We took that information to the league management committee meeting, where they agreed that we would lateral flow test daily. Everybody would do that and that has become the norm in Scottish football just now.

“Clubs are looking at their match day arrangements and how they prepare for match days in collaboration with their opponents, so everybody is refreshing things.

“The last 21 months has seen the clubs build up a very significant amount of expertise and confidence in being able to deal with these matters; accommodating spectators socially distant and limiting the numbers. A lot has gone on in that time.

“It’s been interesting to watch how clubs have gone from ‘could we do that’ to ‘yes we’ll do that’, so they are away to do all those things and look at pinch points like entries, toilets, kiosks, changing facilities and reminding spectators about social distancing.

“All of the stuff that we’ve done before, we are just bringing it back again.”

Houston revealed that clubs also ruled on players who refuse to do Covid tests.

“We had quite a long discussion on whether or not a player should be allowed to play and mix with their team-mates if they refuse to test, given that everybody else is testing.

“They were not keen on a player who refuses to test being involved in matches.

“Our message is to come to Highland League football, enjoy the game, but please respect the circumstances. That is what will enable football to continue.

“It is the culmination of testing and match day arrangements. Training arrangements have gone back to where they were before and quite a lot of clubs had sustained the mitigating training arrangements anyway and saw it as good practice.

“That is the difference between now and 21 months ago, they know what is good practice. They are comfortable with it and it is not strange.

“When you look at the whole playing side and the preparation side, players and coaches are used to it now, so they understand this is what you have to do to get a game of football.”

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