Paul Hartley fears for Scottish football clubs without fans at games and the Cove Rangers boss is not convinced the season will play out.
Announcements by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of new restrictions to curb a second wave of Covid-19 in Scotland look set to push back the indicative October 5 date for supporters returning to grounds.
That has raised serious concerns about the future of some clubs across the sport industry, with little to no income coming through the door.
Hartley said: “If we don’t see fans for four, five, six months, clubs not just in Leagues One and Two and the Championship, but across the four divisions, there’s going to be a real problem. How do clubs survive – they rely heavily on gate money, corporate, hospitality – for that amount of time? It doesn’t matter how cash-rich you are, if there’s no money coming in it’s a worry.
“There’s a fear factor for people who work at the club and people who own the club. It’s their club, not just ours. Who knows what’s going to happen. I can’t say I’m 100 per cent confident the season will start or finish. I think a lot of people are in the same boat.
“I think we could get fans in and socially distance. There’s people going for meals in restaurants and pubs and you see crowds in parks and beaches – but we can’t have any in at the football. The protocols we’ve went through, even to get the pre-season games on, we know what we’re doing. It’s not as if we’re in an indoor environment. There has to be common-sense, because there’s probably clubs that maybe cannot see the season out.
“We’re trying our best – this is our livelihood and we’re all going to suffer here. It’s not just the players, it’s the other people that work at football clubs. If there’s nothing coming in and there’s money going out, it won’t be long before we’re in a real difficult situation. How are most teams in Scottish football going to cope?”
Cove have played two pre-season games so far without testing, but will be required to for their Betfred Cup opener against Hibernian, on October 10.
What could have been a bumper crowd at the Balmoral Stadium looks set to be played without one, with the game live on Premier Sports.
The example of Leyton Orient, who uncovered a reported 17 cases after testing prior to their Carabao Cup tie with Tottenham, worries Hartley. Like the lower leagues in Scotland, their counterparts in England are also not testing until they face top-level opposition.
Hartley added: “I looked at Leyton Orient against Tottenham, where the lower leagues in England aren’t testing. As soon as they play a top-level team, the game got called off because they had 17 positive tests. I think we’ve got a fear of that.
“Our players work in different environments. We’re not in a bubble like full-time clubs. That’s their other jobs. It can affect anybody.
“Our hope is that when we play Hibs and we test that, touch wood, everyone comes back negative. But there’s a chance it might not be.
“It feels like it’s changing day-by-day. We’re getting mixed messages. We don’t know where we stand some of the time, what we can and can’t do.”