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When will the Highland League be able to kick off?

By Alasdair Fraser

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THE Highland League has “war-gamed” a clutch of different scenarios for returning to action next season – but the likely start date remains unknown.

William Hill Scottish Cup Clachnacuddin v Nairn County...Clach's Ross Logan gets a strike off on goal...Picture: Callum Mackay. Image No..
William Hill Scottish Cup Clachnacuddin v Nairn County...Clach's Ross Logan gets a strike off on goal...Picture: Callum Mackay. Image No..

League secretary and chief strategist Rod Houston admits it will be impossible to finalise a format and timescale for the 2020/21 campaign until the SFA and Scottish Government give the green light on easing Covid-19 testing requirements.

Questioning how Championship and lower SPFL clubs could realistically set an October 17 date for returning to action, Houston stressed the high cost of screening players and staff made it a non-starter for part-time clubs.

Houston and league management committee colleagues have met regularly since and modelled all manner of possible fixture calendars for next season.

Houston said: “We have war-gamed all sorts of scenarios and they sit there until we have a time-frame.

“At the moment that’s not something the Scottish FA is able to give us.

“All we have is clearance from the government for the very elite teams to train, not even with contact at this stage.

“The testing regime is extremely expensive and absolutely beyond the resources of any Highland League club.

“We have to wait until such time as that requirement relaxes, or they’ve suppressed the virus sufficiently. We’re actually stuck in a hiatus.”

Houston acknowledged the state of limbo was difficult for clubs, but completely unavoidable.

He said: “Testing is an insurmountable hurdle for Highland League clubs. I would have thought it would be the same for League One and League Two clubs, and possibly some in the Championship.

“For some reason, (with the October 17 start) they’re driving at a certainty that is very difficult for people to give, but that’s up to them.

“We simply have to bide our time, which is incredibly difficult and frustrating because it has been a long gap already.”

Houston also dismisses social distancing would be easier at SHFL grounds given low crowds and spacious terraces.

“What about changing rooms, travel arrangements, first aid cover, match officials, food kiosks and toilets? Most Highland League toilets are not made for one-way traffic,” he said.

“Its very well saying there are only 300 people so you can spread them around the pitch, but there’s a lot more to that in staging a game."

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