Having played on the Scottish lower league circuit for his whole career, Danny Denholm is used to half-empty stadiums.
However, the East Fife winger insists that without fans part-time football is in danger of disappearing altogether and is calling on the government and football authorities to let them back in.
There have been restrictions on supporters attending matches across the SPFL in one way or another since the start of the coronavirus pandemic back in March.
Recently, clubs in tier 1 areas like Ross County have been able to welcome 300 home spectators to their ground for games, while we have also seen a test event at Aberdeen’s Pittodrie back in September.
However, former Arbroath and Forfar man Denholm believes more needs to be done to safeguard the future of our game below the Premiership, insisting League One and Two clubs could safely accommodate crowds.
“In terms of the economic side, I don’t really understand it,” the 30-year-old said.
“But, from what you hear from people who do know, it’s clear having no fans is really hurting them financially and could put some clubs at risk.
“I was quite vocal about it, in terms of letting fans back in, because I feel like industries that are open are more of a risk.
“I know the tier system has stepped up and is maybe a bit stricter now but it’s just one of those areas which I feel needs looked at again.
“You could fit 300/400 folk in a lower league ground no problem at all socially-distanced.
“It’s not like there’s a problem with fan behaviour at that level. It can be done and it can be done safely.
“I just don’t buy the arguments against it at all – they just don’t hold water for me.
“Clubs could be in peril from this and they should really look at getting fans back in.”
Football is a lifeline for mental health of fans and players alike
Looking at it beyond the economics, Denholm feels opening up stadia again would do everyone’s mental health the world of good.
He continued: “For fans’ mental health as well, it’s been a huge part of their lives for years and years going to every game without fail, it’s their Saturday routine.
“It’s not great for 70 or 80-year-old East Fife fans trying to stream games, my mum is only in her fifties and I know what she’s like with technology!
“For the players as well, it’s bizarre. We played Hearts not long back and, usually, that would be a sell-out because Hearts bring their fans and our supporters are interested in it.
“It brings an excitement, an edge and some adrenaline to it. It improves the game.
“Even with social-distancing there would still be a good atmosphere. I’d probably still have that one guy shouting abuse at me but it’s something I feel can be done.”
Former Livingston wide man Denholm also feels for the players, who have had a cloud hanging over their heads for most of the year, but insists football being back in any form is lifting their spirits.
“I’m still enjoying it, very much so,” he added.
“During this you worry ‘is it going to stop?’, ‘are they going to let fans in?’, ‘is that going to make clubs go extinct?’
“I’m a worrier, even things that are not within my control. There’s days where I feel a bit more optimistic.
“It’s just one of these weird times where you can go from high to low quite quickly and I think football typifies that.
“For the majority of part-time players, they do it because they enjoy it.
“The money is still very important to a lot of boys as well, especially the ones that were losing their jobs at the start of the pandemic before furlough kicked in.
“For all of us, it’s been good to have football back.
“It’s great because, although there’s protocols in place, when you’re on the pitch itself it’s exactly the same.
“It’s just football and normality at time when that’s in short supply.
“When we first went back it was weird because, usually, when you greet the boys at training it’s a handshake or a high five but we can’t do that now, among other things.
“It makes you tentative and you’ve got these sort of side first-bump things going in but then you’re in the game and you’re going for 50-50s, two-footed tackles and sweat’s dripping off you.
“When you’re in the thick of the action it’s good for your wellbeing.
“It was definitely good for my mental health because I can’t sit still. It’s been tough for everybody in this time but the only exercise I was getting was boring 5km runs.
“Now we’re back into something with an edge and competitive spirit – it gives you a sense of purpose.”
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