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Scot Gardiner reveals extent of work Caley Thistle undertook to get Caledonian Stadium ready for new season

The Caledonian Stadium.
The Caledonian Stadium.

All football clubs have had to make rapid adjustments to allow play to resume in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Safety and sanitary conditions have taken on renewed importance and are a huge factor in governments permitting football to get back underway.

Caley Thistle have converted the Press and Journal Lounge at the stadium into a home dressing room suitable for 18 players, while the sports bar has been repurposed into an away dressing room that can accommodate 19 players. They have also taken out a toilet block to have shower facilities installed for visiting players.

They had their return to play stadium inspection from the Scottish FA on Thursday morning, ahead of their first home friendly against Elgin City on Saturday. Their first competitive game at the Caledonian Stadium is next week’s visit of Cowdenbeath in the Betfred Cup.

“There’s tons of paperwork, risk assessments, protocols – just what everyone has been going through,” said Caley Thistle chief executive Scot Gardiner. “The closer we get to a competitive season starting, the more of this stuff has to be done.

“We have big dressing rooms but under the current guidelines, they’re not deemed big enough. We’ve had to convert the sports bar into the away dressing room and the Press and Journal Lounge into the home dressing room. The lounge holds 200 people and it is enough for 18 players (under current guidelines).

“We still haven’t been approved to use showers. Away clubs are coming a long way to here, so we hope that rule changes.”

Scot Gardiner at the Caledonian Stadium.

When such time comes that fans are allowed back into stadiums, that work will all have to be undone and returned to its “factory setting”.

Capacity matters, when it comes to fans, are complicated by the number of households that are present. If individuals are all part of separate households, the capacity is smaller. If there are two or more fans part of the same household then obviously the safe capacity increases.

“We can let 485 people in a 7,744-capacity stadium, if they are 485 different households,” added Gardiner. “If it’s multiple people from households, you could have four people together, a space of three or four seats, then three people sitting together, so your numbers go up exponentially.

“How do you manage that in terms of a ticket ballot? Do households get included as one, then it’s not fair for them? Or do you do it all individually?

“It’s not different from what anyone else is doing, but we’re having to go through the documentation and send it to both the league and SFA.”

The work has had to be undertaken with the backdrop of financial concern, which the club has publicised over the last 12 months.

Players and staff were kept on furlough as long as possible to minimise the outgoings at the club, as they returned to training later than most SPFL clubs. They played four friendlies – Elgin twice, Nairn County and Clach – ahead of tomorrow’s Betfred Cup opener against Hearts.

John Robertson was thrilled by Caley Thistle on their return to action against Elgin City.

“We were the last club to come out of furlough,” added Gardiner. “There were smaller clubs in lower leagues than us that came out before us to start training earlier than we did. I spoke to John and for the sake of the finances of the club, we had to last as long as we could before we came off furlough.

“John was understanding of that and the club’s situation. We’re trying to make sure we’re competitive, but at the same time, working within the paremeters we’re living in when we’re losing hundreds of thousands in revenue with regards to supporters, sponsorship and advertising.

“I was expecting him to let me know, in no uncertain terms, that I was letting him down. But he knows what we’re doing and there’s logic behind it.

“We’re happy and we still think there’s a couple of additions to be made, if they’re right. We’re ready and I think we’ll be well ready by October 17. The league is the important thing for us.”