Secretary Rod Houston says his three months of fixture modelling have not been in vain as Highland League chiefs begin working out how they will complete the 2020/21 season.
Speaking on our Northern Goal podcast this week, Houston agreed “an awful lot of things are pointing towards mid-October” for the restart, which would be in line with when the Championship, League One and League Two plan to kick-off.
He revealed the Highland League management committee held an initial meeting on Monday to begin mapping out the campaign.
Houston said: “I’ve been modelling fixture programmes since late April. Not all of it has been futile and we’re gradually focusing in on key issues.
“The key to any fixture programme we develop will be the number of Saturdays we have available before an agreed deadline of when we need to be finished for the play-offs.
“The weather is a huge imponderable and we have two wipeouts per annum on average.
“The other thing we need to take into account is – what happens if there’s a local spike and shutdown?
“Any fixtures in an area would have to be postponed. How much elbow room do you put in a fixtures programme to take into account these things?
“Then clubs have got to take a view on what competitions we can do, how we get through them and what framework they have. There’s a lot of decisions which have to be finalised.
“But I don’t think we can finalise them until we’ve got a clearer steer on when we’re good to go.
“We had the first meeting of the league management committee Monday when we started to scope out the issues, but no decisions were taken.”
Houston says, while he expects the Highland League to allow five subs in line with IFAB regulations for season 2020/21, water breaks – like have been seen in the English Premier League – have yet to be considered.
The secretary praised National Clinical Director Jason Leitch for his clear messaging during the Covid-19 pandemic, with the Scottish Government health guru recently expressing optimism fans would be allowed to attend games by October.
This has given Houston and his colleagues “greater confidence than was previously possible” over a start date, as paying fans and hospitality guests are “absolutely” a requirement for Highland matches.
Houston thinks the league can manage the burden of testing for coronavirus if the only requirement was to take the temperature of players and staff, and chiefs will provide clubs with a return to play protocol governing the “minimum six weeks pre-season training”.
He said: “Once you get down to temperature checking as the standard monitoring process, it’s game on for the Highland League. It comes into the realm of affordability.
“But there are other concerns we have to bear in mind. For example, if a player tests positive, has he received it at his club or place of employment? We have to remember that every player in the Highland League is part-time.
“We’ve got to be careful we’re not an agent of transmission that affects other employers. In the wider economy, a lot of employers are facing tough times.”
Also on this week’s episode, Houston discusses Scottish football’s reaction to the crisis and Brora Rangers finding their route to the SPFL blocked. He also reflects on his varied time in north football, which has included, among other moments, watching Dutch heroes Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder turn out for their country at Dudgeon Park.
Northern Goal is available on your favourite podcast app.