BY JAMES RHYS
There has been widespread coverage of the Covid impact on the beautiful game at the elite level but as is often the case, the struggles facing clubs further down the football pyramid often fall through the cracks.
However, as a result of the Scottish FA’s decision to suspend all professional football below the SPFL and championship last week, the plight of local clubs has been brought to the fore once again.
Speaking exclusively to the Galloway News, St Cuthbert Wanderers committee members Michael and Tracey McGarrie shared how the Kirkcudbright club has been coping with the ongoing pandemic.
“When the Scottish FA postponed grassroots football, I think it was great for all concerned,” said club secretary Michael.
“The ‘R’ number in the area is just far too high for us to even consider continuing as far as we were concerned as a club. There is always a risk of taking Covid out into the wider community and that was something that didn’t really sit well with us.”
He continued: “It’s a difficult one because you don’t want to stop the boys playing football but you have to take your own responsibility, whether as a governing body, a club or coaching staff and committees, everyone has got the same responsibilities here.”
The announcement to suspend games for the remainder of January came just days after Lowland League side Dalbeattie Star released a statement confirming they had contacted authorities requesting serious consideration be given to a suspension of league fixtures until the disease can be brought under control.
“The other thing we have to bear in mind is that we are a community club and we are part of the community,” added chairperson Tracey.
“We have to be responsible in terms of the people in our community that we are in contact with but also that once this is all over, we want them to be able to come back and support us. We don’t want to put any of our supporters at risk.”
There are financial implications too. Along with a loss of gate receipts, the club’s local lottery, an important fundraiser, had to be suspended as it relied so heavily on the support of the local pubs. Thankfully, the continued support of sponsors and an emergency support grant have helped to cushion the impact of running costs while the club aims to restart the lottery online next week.
For club chair Tracey, the lack of supporters at St Mary’s has far more than just a financial impact for the club.
“The biggest concern is if you don’t start getting the fans back, it becomes a totally different game,” she said. “From an interest point of view and for attracting and keeping players, it makes a big, big difference.
“Without people on the sidelines to support and enjoy with you, it really does make a huge difference to the whole atmosphere.”
One example that really hammered this home for her was the 2- 1 away defeat to Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale in the preliminary round of the Scottish Cup.
“We had an away game, up to Lothian, and we weren’t allowed to have fans there. We had players there who were playing in the Scottish Cup for the first time and families couldn’t come and support them. It’s at times like that you realise how important it is.”
Michael added: “It’s not just fans, it’s players’ families and their own support network that are missing out seeing them play.”
And people are missing their weekly fix of local football.
With an increased use of social media presence to try and keep fans up to date, the pair have seen a definite rise in interest in the Saints.
“I don’t know how many people we’ve had that have been saying to us that they are desperate to see a game of football.
”Normally they would probably have gone further afield but now they want to stay local.
“Unfortunately, we’ve not been able to welcome any fans in this season but there has been a lot of interest and support from a lot of our local people.
“We’ve had one or two that are coming down and standing and watching over the fence.
“That’s how much some people are still wanting to watch games.”
For those at Saints the increased interest in the club is one of the few positives to come out of the difficult situation.
Tracey is hopeful that the interest can be sustained once they are able to welcome fans back through the gates.
“Covid and lockdown has made people look more at what is on their own doorstep, and make more of an effort to get involved in what’s on their own doorstep because they feel safer in their local area,” she said.
“We hope that when things start to open up a little here, that this will continue and that they’ll come and give us a chance and come and see.”
With the decent squad and success on the park Saints have enjoyed so far this season, sitting behind local rivals Stranraer reserves and Threave Rovers in the table at time of suspension, Michael is also optimistic that the club can attract some of the local fans who may previously have travelled further afield.
He saidf: “A lot of people from Kirkcudbright might travel up to see Celtic or Rangers or Queens, but because of the way we have been playing, I think there’s a wee bit of interest. We just have to hope that it’s not off for too long that the interest dies off.”
Throughout the conversation, it was clear how important the sense of community was to everyone involved at the Kirkcudbright side.
Everyone involved, both on and off the pitch, eagerly awaits the day when it is once again safe to welcome supporters back through the gates at St Mary’s Park.
“It’s the town’s club and we want townsfolk to come and watch us.
“Even if they come once every couple of weeks, or once a month, that make a huge difference to a club our size.”