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Coronavirus pandemic has created the perfect opportunity for the Highland League to switch to summer football, says Buckie Thistle manager Graeme Stewart


By Craig Christie

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THE ever-increasing delay in kicking off the Highland League season has created the perfect time to switch to summer football.

Rothes FC (1) vs Buckie Thistle FC (1) - Highland Football League - Mackessack Park 02/03/19...Buckie Thistle gaffer Graeme Stewart...Picture: Daniel Forsyth. Image No.043368.
Rothes FC (1) vs Buckie Thistle FC (1) - Highland Football League - Mackessack Park 02/03/19...Buckie Thistle gaffer Graeme Stewart...Picture: Daniel Forsyth. Image No.043368.

That’s the opinion of Buckie Thistle manager Graeme Stewart, who has been vocal in his disdain for playing matches during the colder months.

This week the Highland League postponed its plans to kick off an already delayed league campaign on October 17, putting the programme on pause until November 28.

League matches won’t be played until crowds are allowed to return, and Stewart agrees with the decision to put things on hold for now.

But he refuses to give up on his view that summer football is the way ahead, and could begin in 2021.

He suggested that the Highland League should go it alone with a season between March and September next year as an experiment, and if it doesn’t work out they could revert to traditional months.

“For me it’s a no-lose gamble. The Highland League has this opportunity and I’d like them to take it,” he said.

“It’s almost being forced upon us to play in the summer. What is the point in rushing about?

“I would just say, we are starting the season in March. It means everyone is off now, coming back in the middle or end of January, you do your pre-season then you start in March and play summer football and see how you get on.

“What they could do is do a mini season in the summer, like the one they are planning to do just now. You play each other once and see how it goes.

“If it doesn’t go well you just start the season again as normal in October or November and have another mini season. But if it does go well, you start again in February or March with a full season.

“To be honest it’s a no brainer but people just don’t seem to want to do it. We are rushing about just now, everyone is panicking, we are going in buses or travelling in cars and wasting money.

“Nobody knows what is going on and to me it seems a bit pointless.

“You just give yourself a breather and say we are definitely going back in March, playing summer football. If it works well you can play every season from March until November.”

The Jags manager is aware that playing summer football would remove the Highland League from the SPFL pyramid, a system he believes there is little appetite for in north circles.

And he said although Scottish Cup participation could still happen for Highland League clubs, it shouldn’t get in the way of the bigger picture of playing matches in better weather in front of bigger crowds.

“The Highland League is a unique league sitting on it’s own.

“If we can still stay in the Scottish Cup, that’s a bonus but the benefits of playing in the summer far outweigh playing one Scottish Cup game a year.

“You might even be better prepared for it when you’re coming towards the end of your season playing the Scottish Cup rather than at the start of it.

“I would say just forget about the pyramid system, bow out of it.

“Clubs who have gone up in the past, some have been happy and others have regretted it.

“We have probably lost all of the clubs who had the ambition to play at that level now, I don’t think anybody else is really geared up for playing in the SPFL, that’s my opinion anyway.”



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