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Huntly manager Allan Hale assesses his club's Scottish Cup dilemma, and ponders whether the Highland League campaign should continue or be suspended - or even called off

By Craig Christie

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THIS Saturday, Huntly don't know if they will be playing Cumbernauld Colts, Dumbarton, Wick Academy, or no-one at all.

Huntly's Cammy Bowden in action at Lossiemouth this season - but is the campaign going to be completed? Picture: Becky Saunderson..
Huntly's Cammy Bowden in action at Lossiemouth this season - but is the campaign going to be completed? Picture: Becky Saunderson..

The Highland League football season reaching a conclusion has been cast in a shadow of doubt, and the situation faces by Huntly manager Allan Hale this week is a typical example.

With the country back in full lockdown for at least a month, many walks of life will be restricted but the Scottish Government are still allowing professional football to continue.

The Scottish FA and SPFL's joint response group will make a call this week on how the campaign can proceed at all levels, with the Highland League expected to meet with clubs to discuss the way ahead.

Two options on the table could be to suspend the season until lockdown is over, or alternatively to cancel it and declare the campaign null and void.

In Huntly's case, they are still waiting to play a Scottish Cup first round tie which has already been postponed four times.

They have also learned that both training facilities they use for their twice-weekly sessions have been closed down, and they can't even train on their own pitch when it isn't in a playable state.

Efforts are being made to get the Christie Park side's home match against Cumbernauld played tomorrow night (Wednesday), though it unlikely to go ahead in Huntly.

Manager Hale revealed how attempts were made to get the game played at Cove Rangers on Monday afternoon and Lossiemouth tonight, but both were rejected by their opponents.

Huntly manager Allan Hale.
Huntly manager Allan Hale.

"We have asked many clubs, SPFL clubs and Highland League clubs to support by offering their pitches," Hale said.

"But most of them within local travelling distance to ourselves have got home ties in the Scottish Cup on Saturday and with the recent bad weather their pitches are also not in the best condition.

"It’s not an easy situation but the club is working tirelessly between the volunteers and the ground staff on the pitch to try and do what they can to get our pitch playable."

Tomorrow's game could go ahead at an as-yet-unknown neutral venue, with the winners scheduled to visit League 1 Dumbarton in the second round on Saturday.

Christie Park looks unlikely to be playable in time, and if another park isn't found for Wednesday night, the tie will be played on Saturday instead.

"We are also down for a Highland League game at Wick on Saturday if we are out of the cup," Hale added.

"It’s all about trying to get prepared as well as we can. We like to do our homework on who we are up against, and our staff are working on that anyway in whatever eventuality happens.

"We will be prepared for any eventuality, whether it's Cumbernauld, Wick or Dumbarton."

Or the alternative would be no Huntly fixture, if the Highland League decides to take a break for January or even shuts down for the season.

Hale has questioned the wisdom of continuing the shortened season under the increased restrictions when many clubs won't even be able to train.

He has spoken to another Highland League manager based in Aberdeenshire who has encountered a similar problem with training venues being closed.

"The fact is that most clubs in Aberdeen and the Shire won’t be able to train.

"I’m not sure how it’s going to help if football continues but we can’t train anywhere. I’m not sure how that would be feasible.

"I don’t know if the Highland League is that important that we need to keep playing when we are back in a lockdown for a month.

"They might look at how feasible it would be just to suspend it until the end of January and get back into it in February.

"But again you are thinking, how do you condition your players over that period, with the fact that you can’t train anywhere?

"And how can we rearrange the fixture so we can complete the season because we have only played three league games and there are still competitions to fit into that as well?

"How do you move into completing the season by the end of April so you can get the play-offs?

"There’s a lot of questions, and plenty for the league management committee to consider.

"We will just allow them to have those conversations and we will focus on what we can control, which is working with the players in training and getting some games played. We will then take direction based on what they say.

"I don’t envy anyone that needs to have those conversations.

"But I just think if people are being told that they can’t go into work or they can’t travel anywhere, but you can play football, I’m not quite sure that makes sense to me."

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