Cove Rangers manager Paul Hartley fears for Scottish football clubs without crowds – and is not convinced the season will be completed.
The Scottish Government announcement on Tuesday on Covid-19 restrictions looks to have knocked back crowds coming back to sports in Scotland on October 5, after a spike in cases across the country.
Supporters may not be back in grounds for as long as six months, which has sparked prominent concerns some sports clubs will simply not survive without that income coming in.
Former Dundee gaffer Hartley insists it is a problem for all levels of Scottish football, not just part-time clubs and doubts whether the season will play out amid the pandemic.
He 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. It’s a fear.
“Say we have no fans until next year, that is going be a real worry for everybody. We can’t hide away from this. We’ve got to try and find a way. We can’t predict what’s going to happen. There’s a lot of talk of crowds in sport not coming in, not just in football.
“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% 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 at the football.
“The protocols we’ve gone 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.
We’re getting mixed messages…we don’t know where we stand.
“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 start their domestic season with a game against Hibernian in the Betfred Cup on October 10, in what will be their first televised game at the Balmoral Stadium.
In ordinary circumstances they would expect a significant crowd for the game but it appears they will have to take the hit of playing behind closed doors.
They will test players before the game and Hartley says everything is in place to do so. But then they have the added worry of positive test results, which could affect the fixture in the same manner Leyton Orient’s reported 17 positive cases of Covid-19 forced their EFL Cup tie with Tottenham to be postponed this week.
He 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 this. It doesn’t matter if you’re a full-time environment – if your partner or wife is working in a different environment, 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.”