Inverurie Locos manager Andy Low says he can understand why some players have dropped out of the Highland League – but feels a nucleus of players are still eager to be involved.
Over the last year, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a big impact on the division.
It was suspended for eight months last year from March until November – with the exception of four clubs who completed last season’s Highland League Cup in October – and has again been placed in cold storage since January 11 and the shutdown will continue into next month
As a result of the coronavirus disruption, a number of players across the Highland League have called time on their careers or moved to the more localised Juniors.
At Inverurie, Eric Watson retired, Ryan Stott and Andy Reid also opted to take a break from the game and Chris Angus moved to Junior side Bridge of Don Thistle.
Harlaw Park boss Low expected some people to step away from the Highland League because of the pandemic.
He said: “I think it’s a mixed bag and it’s up to each and every individual about how they feel.
“You’ve got guys nearer the end of their careers who will have had a bit of time away and been able to spend more time with their families which they have enjoyed and new avenues may have taken over at their work.
“You’ve also got younger players where it’s an important time for them and you find out what they want to do.
“Do they want to kick on with their football careers or are they looking to kick on with their full-time careers and take a step back from part-time football?
“I think that’s why we’ve seen people move into the Juniors and playing more football at a local level, but still to a good standard.
“That’s what I’ve found, I felt people would be lost to the Highland League because of those factors.
“The Highland League is a big commitment, every second week you’re away and you can be two or three hours and more away from your house.
“In the Juniors in Aberdeen you’re probably 30 minutes away from your house and that extra time with your family is what people are getting at the moment.
“There have been players lost to the Highland League, but I think the nucleus is still there and the good thing is we know those players are fully behind the Highland League and their clubs.”
When the 2020-21 Highland League season started on November 28, the 10 clubs in Moray and the Highlands were able to admit a limited number of supporters, with the six Aberdeenshire clubs operating behind closed doors.
But when a nationwide lockdown was imposed from Boxing Day, all clubs returned to action behind closed doors until last month’s suspension.
Low feels for the Highland League fans who have been unable to watch their team.
He added: “I feel sorry for the fans and, no matter how much I love watching football on TV the live streaming is not the same.
“You haven’t got the same, atmosphere, connection and interaction. I think that’s a big thing in the Highland League, because both sets of fans usually interact.
“They’ll be missing that as much as the players are.”