South of Scotland League tell MSPs: Allow fans back in or clubs will fold
The South of Scotland Football League has written to local MSPs urging them to back a campaign to get fans back in at grassroots games.
The SoSFL say urgent action is needed to prevent clubs folding, and that clubs at Tier 6 and below - ie all clubs below the level of the Lowland or Highland Leagues - should not be treated in the same way as their elite level counterparts.
They wrote: “On behalf of the clubs that compete in the South of Scotland Football League we are writing to request the Scottish Government allow for the urgent return of supporters to grassroots football clubs, which are at the heart of communities and whose future we fear.
“Our definition of grassroots football begins at Tier 6 and below of Scottish Football, as covered by the Scottish FA Non-Professional Game Board.
“Our grassroots football structure across Scotland is football at its purist, often at the heart of our community, rich in diversity and a starting point for many a talented footballer, but unlike SPFL football, cannot rely on broadcast or sponsorship income streams.
“The gate and refreshment income streams are vital for financial sustainability when crowds are, on average, in the tens and low hunderds rather than thousands.
“For example, in the South of Scotland Football League, where a typical club such as Abbey Vale play, the average attendance for the 2019-2020 season was less than 50. Many club gates in our league are in double figures, but enough with refreshment takings and concerted fund raising to just about sustain the club.
“Yet it appears that allowing the fans returning to support their small local clubs is being considered in the same way as SPFL Premiership football clubs, which is incomparable and ultimately unfair."
The SoSFL say that the importance of its clubs to their local communities has been shown by their off-the-field work to help people, particularly the most vulnerable, through the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Many of our grassroots clubs joined their wealthier SPFL cousins in supporting their local communities through the pandemic, providing targeted and appreciated support for neighbouring residents and we feel, in return, deserve support for allowing the return of their supporters.
“While we appreciate the challenges of getting a number of supporters back into grassroots grounds, grassroots clubs end to be supported by those within the community itself. Social distancing guidelines would easily be adhered to along with other precautions such as temperature checks and registers of attendance.
“Given that other activities including those indoors have been allowed to resume in a Covid-safe way,imply do not understand why Grassroots football clubs in outdoor environments cannot allow their small but loyal supporters back in through the gates.
“As representatives of these local clubs we fear that if [we] don’t do something soon, they will be lost forever.
“Therefore we urge you to seriously consider allowing the return of supporters to grassroots clubs, separately to Scottish Premiership clubs and urgently allow us to open the gates and let supporters in.”