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EXCLUSIVE: Arbroath FC have plenty of reasons to be optimistic in uncertain times

Arbroath chairman Mike Caird
Arbroath chairman Mike Caird

Confusion reigns in Scottish football at every turn.

Independent inquiry at the SPFL or nothing to see here?

Reconstruction – how about 14-14-14? No, what do you say to 14-10-10-10 then? Permanent change or a ‘save Hearts’ temporary fix? Maybe the status quo is best after all?

When can football come back? Can the professional game afford to play behind closed doors or can it afford not to?

Will the top flight have a chance of finishing or is Celtic’s confirmation a matter of time?

Questions, questions, questions. Everywhere, questions.

Arbroath Football Club will have to wait for answers like the rest of us but the Gayfield club can at least be assured of a few certainties.

They have played out the most successful season in generations. They will be in the second tier of the SPFL, in whatever form that takes. They will be in a better position than most to deal with a post-coronavirus Scottish football landscape. And they will have a manager of 32 seasons’ experience to guide them through it.

Nobody involved in our national sport is doing a tap-dance at the moment but Arbroath chairman Mike Caird is justifiably proud of a season recently curtailed and reassured about the Red Lichties’ health going into the next one, whenever that may be.

“It’s been a fantastic season,” he reflected. “It’s just a pity that it had to be cut short.

“At the start of the season we just wanted to enjoy it and hopefully survive. A lot of people were predicting we’d go straight back down obviously but we just went about our business and when you’ve got a manager like Dick Campbell, a good coaching team and determined players, you’ve got a chance.

“We held our own from the start and then got stronger and stronger.

“By the time the season stopped we’d almost secured our place in the Championship. With 10 games to go I’m not saying we’d have finished in the top four but we’d certainly have pushed for it and given the fans an exciting end to the season.

“I’ve been on the board 20-odd years. This is the best season I can remember and supporters are saying the same thing. We’ve finished fifth on points average and I think that’s where we deserve to be.

“None of us know when the new season will start but we’re cautiously optimistic about it when it does.

“It’s a pity that we lost out on Dundee United and Dundee at home because they would have been two big crowds for us. We’re OK financially but all clubs will have issues if it drags into four or five months with no football, of course.

“Having a year in the Championship as a part-time club will help us hopefully. We’ve got to be positive.”

Caird is keeping his powder dry on the latest three-league structure that the League Two clubs have thrown their collective weight behind, saying “more detail” is needed.

And he hasn’t reached a hard and fast conclusion on the viability of closed doors football to get next season up-and-running before a Covid-19 vaccine is available.

“We’d hope that we would be able to play in front of a limited crowd,” said Caird. “Maybe we could make that work at grounds like Gayfield.

“It’s all unknown. We’ll follow the government advice and there’s a taskforce which has been set up by the SFA to speak to the government.

“Folk get into new habits when they’ve been away from football for a long time. It can be hard to get them back. And there will be people in the older generation who might be wary of coming back for health reasons.

“So nothing can be ruled out just now.”

Other clubs have started selling season tickets for next season but Arbroath have decided against that money-raising strategy.

“Fans are asking,” said Caird. “They have been brilliant. But it would be unfair to fans to sell season tickets at this time.

“We’ve had the ‘buy a brick’ initiative and that has raised nearly £30,000. We want to give something back for the money supporters give us.

“But we don’t know when we’ll be playing, how many games we’ll be playing and if there will be league reorganisation.”

Dick Campbell and social distancing aren’t meant to be a combination as anybody who has ever met the gregarious Gayfield boss will appreciate. An enforced period away from the sport he loves won’t hasten retirement, though. Campbell and his bunnet will be back in the dugout when the football hiatus is over.

“Of course he will,” said Caird. “He’s on the phone every day.

“We know you’re only as good as your last season and Dick will want to do better next year.”