Huntly boss Allan Hale feels Highland League clubs have been “backed into a corner” over the return of the Scottish Cup.
The seven Highland League clubs were given little notification, according to Hale, of the proposed return of March 23, when the outstanding second round ties are due to be played.
Hale also feels the estimated cost of three rounds of testing for players – now required to participate in the competition – given by the Scottish FA is much lower than the reality, as clubs have found.
The Black and Golds are due to face Dumbarton in less than three weeks, with a lack of training time and facilities also a pressing concern. It is detracting from the prize on offer for Huntly, which would be a plum home tie against Aberdeen.
“It does feel that way, like we’ve been backed into a corner,” said Hale. “There was no prior consultation to notify the seven clubs and they were asked to play their ties imminently.
“We need to arrange prior testing and the cost of that is more expensive than what the SFA advised it would be. The club is actually going to lose money to play the game, based on buses and testing costs over a three-week period.
2020/21 SCOTTISH CUP TO RESUME IN MARCH https://t.co/orf7UpH3ea
— Huntly Football Club (@huntlyfc) March 3, 2021
“It’s been made, from their perspective, that they are supporting clubs to get back playing, when in reality it’s ‘this is the tie. If you’re not happy, don’t play’. That doesn’t sit well when it’s supposed to be a national competition.
“There’s pleasure and satisfaction in that we’re able to get back to some competitive football. But there’s disappointment in that the SFA have thrown a date at clubs and they now have to deal with it.”
The ongoing regulations regarding Covid-19 in Scotland mean training is an issue, with public facilities shut down and other sites at a premium.
Players have also been off longer than they ordinarily would be for pre-season, yet are faced with a turnaround of just over a fortnight to get them match-ready.
The cost of participating, in what could just be for one Scottish Cup game, may well run into five figures, once testing and any travel arrangements are finalised.
“Before this, the feedback was we were going to get three weeks preparation before any football resumed,” said Hale. “But the reality is we don’t have testing set up, we don’t have training facilities set up and we have not had a full week’s training since December.
“Traditionally players get four weeks over at the end of the season then a five-or-six-week pre-season. Now we’ve had three months off and we’ve got two weeks for what’s essentially the club’s biggest game in the last few years.
“There’s been no consultation or offering of financial support from the SFA for testing. It’s a significant outlay for part-time clubs which has not been considered.
“We’re going to have four sessions with the players before the game. It impacts the quality of the product, because all clubs are going to be in the same boat.”
Hale believes withdrawing from the Scottish Cup may well have been an option for clubs, even if it would have been unfair on those involved.
“I think every club will have discussed it,” he added. “There’s pros and cons to be weighed up.
“When you consider the commitment of the players and clubs over the last few months, to get everything up to speed and be compliant with the regulations, it would be unfair to get backed into a corner and be forced to pull out of a competition which they have fully earned their place in.”