Paul Hartley has reiterated the need for Scottish football to get fans back in stadiums.
The Cove Rangers boss sees the financial need for supporters to return, particularly at lower-league clubs, where the shutout appears to be heading into 2021.
Only a small number of clubs across the country have been able to welcome spectators back this season. Ross County, Caley Thistle and Elgin City – all in level one areas under the Scottish Government’s coronavirus restrictions – have seen fans back in recent weeks.
However, the rest of Scotland remains in levels two, three or four, where gatherings of people at stadia are not permitted.
The news this week of a vaccine being ready has given some optimism and Hartley knows the work his own club have done it make it a safe venue to attend.
He said: “We’re still in a difficult position where we really don’t know. I think we need fans back in, but that’s another case. You need supporters back in the ground, whether it’s 500 or 5,000. It’s a strange atmosphere without any fans.
“It feels pretty safe and it would be pretty safe for the supporters. There’s nothing going to be indoors; we’ve looked at every possible avenue to get supporters back in the ground safely and the club has worked extremely hard.
“It’s out of our control. It’s going to be vital for Scottish football to see where we’re at, whether we’re going to get any supporters back in this season.
“There’s not going to be any supporters back in this month. If there’s any going to be coming back in, it’s going to be next year and we know that. We’ve prepared (if fans get back in) but we don’t know when that’s going to be at the minute.
“There’s so much up in the air at the minute. Hopefully a vaccine will help.”
Not having the income of gate receipts or hospitality has forced clubs to think of different financial models, with the majority offering virtual season tickets to stream games from their homes.
But the knock-on effect is the budgets of most, if not all, clubs will be significantly reduced for the foreseeable future.
Hartley said: “How does it affect us? I really don’t know. It just depends on what sort of money is available. Teams are obviously looking whether there’s any supporters allowed back in the ground – all the teams are going to look at that and how it affects the budget.
“If there’s no fans back in, that becomes more and more difficult for clubs financially. All the focus is to make sure the club is on a sound financial footing and I’m sure the chairman looks at that also.
“If we need to add to any then hopefully we can. If not, then that’s fine because the club is more important than anybody else.
“Most clubs back on supporters, they bank on corporate. There’s a wee bit of light at the end of the tunnel in the Highlands, but it’s only a couple of hundred fans. It’s not a game-changer.”
Hartley believes his club have benefitted from being able to keep the majority of last season’s squad together, negating the need for him to make wholesale changes during the period of shutdown.
He added: “We’ve been really consistent in our team selection for the majority of time we’ve been here. We’ve not changed too much.
“We’ve kept the majority of our squad together, which shows good consistency.”