A youth football club has been left “devastated” after a group of Travellers, along with their horses, set up camp on their pitch.
The situation has thrown a spotlight on the lack of provision for Travellers from Aberdeen City Council, with one councillor calling the present circumstances “untenable”.
Cove Youth FC, which has around 350 boys and girls between the ages of six and 18, were given the go-ahead to start training again on Monday at their home ground of Aberdeen Gateway.
However, just over an hour before they were due to start, vans, caravans and cars began to move on the grass.
Cove Youth FC Vice-Chairman Mark Robb said: “It was quarter to five when this happened, and the first ones were on at six o’clock.
“All of a sudden you just see caravans and vans coming up the business park pavement and onto the grass. That was a bit of a blow.
“I drove my car down to the pitch to make sure they weren’t on it, but sure enough, they’d already unloaded their horses and their horses were on the pitch.”
He added: “The pitch was looking good, we’ve done a lot of work over the last three months on it to try and get it back to a better playing surface.
“But the horses have been down the top end of the pitch.
“They’re doing the toilet all over the pitch, and they’re eating the grass, chewing it up and walking about.
“Slightly later in the evening, there were kids on quad bikes tearing about the campsite and tearing across the pitch, so that’s going to tear up the pitch as well. It’s a bit gutting to be honest.”
The team also play at Balmoral Stadium and Lochside Academy, but both are currently closed.
Mark added: “The boys are devastated. Depending how much damage that’s going to do to the pitch, it might not be able to be used until next year, by the time you get things repaired and done properly.
“We don’t want to put the kids on it if it’s a danger to them. It’s going to implicate a lot of costs for the club as well.”
In the meantime, Goals Aberdeen has offered to host the team at a discounted rate.
Currently, there is only one official Gypsy/Traveller site in the Aberdeen area, with space for 17 permanent pitches and four short term pitches.
The site, at Clinterty near the border with Aberdeenshire, has a waiting list.
Councillor Alex Nicoll, whose ward contains Aberdeen Gateway, said: “Clearly, the council need to address the problem of where to have for a Traveller site, because the present arrangements are simply not satisfactory.
“There are insufficient pitches, as we know, and there is insufficient availability, and as long as that situation continues, we are going to continue to have the problem of Travellers using unauthorised pieces of land and causing problems for local groups that wish to use those areas.
“It really is something we need to resolve, and the sooner we manage to do that the better.
“The present situation is simply untenable.”
The proposed Aberdeen Local Development Plan 2020 identifies five development sites that will be expected to make contributions towards the provision of sites for Gypsies and Travellers.
That includes on-site provision at Grandhome, the Newhills Expansion and Loirston, for small sites of six pitches.
Scottish Conservative north-east MSP Liam Kerr, who has been contacted by Cove Youth over the situation, said: “I’m shocked and appalled to see this occur at Cove Gateway which is a fantastic facility used by a number of football teams in the area.
“For months, the players have been waiting patiently for the chance to play football with each other again and to have this taken away from them is shameful.
“This situation is extremely disappointing for everyone at a time when it’s vital we encourage youngsters to get back outdoors and play sport as lockdown eases.
“I’m confident Muir Group will act as fast as they can to enforce action to allow the teams to train and play on the pitches again.”
Muir Group has been contacted for comment.
The Evening Express asked Aberdeen City Council about existing Traveller provision in the city and how the authority expects to resolve the situation with only one available site.
A spokesman did not respond to those questions, saying only: “We are aware of this matter and we are in discussions with the land owner over further steps.”