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McInally calls for realism about how long clubs can function without crowds

Peterhead manager Jim McInally

Peterhead manager Jim McInally Picture by KENNY ELRICK

Peterhead manager Jim McInally believes Scottish football is burying its head in the sand about how long clubs can continue without crowds.

All four SPFL divisions have now started behind closed doors and that situation doesn’t look like changing any time soon following recent tightening of Covid-19 restrictions.

The loss of fans coming through the turnstiles and lucrative matchday hospitality is expected to have a crippling effect on clubs.

Although games are being streamed on a pay-per-view basis they are not expected to generate the same income, with revenue generated from hospitality particularly difficult to replace.

It had been hoped crowds could return in some form this month, once that was ruled out it was mooted that the SFA and SPFL may be able to secure a financial support package for the country’s clubs, but that has yet to materialise.

Although additional money has been made available to clubs through the SPFL Trust following the £50,000 grant from benefactor James Anderson, this cash can only be used on community projects and not club costs.

Earlier this week Aberdeen chairman Dave Cormack called on the Scottish Government to outline a timeline for the return of supporters and asked for the Dons to be given the opportunity to hold more pilot events with fans.

McInally, Scotland’s longest serving manager, said: “It almost like there’s an ignorant bliss about it that everyone is going to be all right.

“I do think there’s a lot of people kidding themselves on about how long this can last.

“I think we’re burying our heads in the sand again. How long can we all go without crowds? Or even the the possibility of crowds because at the minute there’s not even a glimmer of hope.

“Dave Cormack has tried to have an influence, but unfortunately I think the government has already shown disregard towards Aberdeen as a city and the north-east by locking it down while places like Glasgow and Perth remained open.

“I think Celtic and Rangers are the two clubs with the best chance of having an influence.

“And sadly because of that I don’t think there will be any crowds before the next Old Firm game (scheduled for January 2) because they’ll want to balance it up and won’t want Rangers playing an Old Firm game in front of supporters when Celtic didn’t get to.

“That fixture is not until January so that’s pretty worrying as well.

“We need to hope that there’s a gamechanger somewhere along the line whether it be from a vaccine starting to be rolled out or a situation where things brighten up and everyone is feeling a bit better mentally.”

This weekend Peterhead face Cove Rangers in a north-east derby at Balmoor, a fixture that in normal circumstances would have been expected to generate a bumper crowd.

McInally added: “Our hospitality is the biggest loss to us, in our league it’s probably only Partick Thistle and Falkirk that would compete with us on that front.

“Our hospitality is one of the biggest in the league so that’s a lot of money to miss out on.

“And on the crowd front, this week playing Cove in normal circumstances you might have been looking at between 1500 and 2000 of a crowd, maybe it wouldn’t have been quite as much as that, but it would have been a lot of money.

“Clyde played Partick Thistle on Saturday and they would have had between 3000 and 4000 there normally.

“It must be so hard for chairman and directors to look at that and see what they’re missing out on.”

In terms of solving the crowd conundrum McInally believes every club should be dealt with on an individual basis in terms of the number of supporters they could safely accommodate in their grounds.

He said: “Doing it on the individual merit of what was feasible at each ground could work for the lower leagues with the numbers that are involved.”

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