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Costs make Covid testing for Highland League clubs a non-starter, says Wick boss Manson

By Alan Hendry

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Wick Academy manager Gary Manson (left) with Craig Gunn during a pre-season game at Halkirk. Picture: James Gunn
Wick Academy manager Gary Manson (left) with Craig Gunn during a pre-season game at Halkirk. Picture: James Gunn

Wick Academy manager Gary Manson has reiterated his view that a Covid-19 testing regime for Highland League clubs would be "a non-starter" due to the costs involved.

He also conceded that it is looking less and less likely that the 2020/21 campaign will be able to reach a conclusion, while acknowledging that the position could change in the coming weeks.

Manson was speaking after league secretary Rod Houston expressed his view that PCR testing would prove too costly for clubs to start playing again at Highland League level. However, Houston has not ruled out a restart and feels there is still an opportunity to get the season completed.

Leagues One and Two of the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) can return this weekend by following the current SPFL Premiership and Championship protocols – including a requirement to undertake PCR testing once a week.

Other divisions, including the Highland League, remain under suspension.

Academy are among nine Highland League teams who have played only two games so far in what is meant to be a 15-game fixture list.

Manson said: "Any testing programme would prove too expensive for every club in the Highland League. It's feasible for the Scottish Cup, as it is a one-off and the financial rewards for progressing make it worthwhile – but the costs for testing approximately 25 people for 13 league games make it a non-starter.

"It's becoming more and more difficult to see the 2020/21 season being played to completion. You never know, things might change in the next couple of weeks and we'll get the go-ahead, which would be great, but we'll just need to wait and see."

Houston said last week clubs were awaiting further information on how they might be able to salvage the campaign.

“We are where we have been for some time,” he said. “There has been no clearance from the Scottish Government through the Scottish FA other than dispensation for clubs playing in the Scottish Cup.

“In terms of a league or league cup programme, we have to wait to see what is possible."

But he added: "PCR testing is definitely too expensive.”

The delayed 2020/21 Highland League campaign began on November 28 with Covid protocols in place. However, Academy were able to play only two league games and two Scottish Cup ties before the next stoppage.

Scottish football was suspended on January 12 with the exception of the top two divisions.

Scottish FA president Rod Petrie promised at the start of March that the Highland League will return "as soon as it is safe to do so".

Welcoming the announcement by Nicola Sturgeon that some of the lower leagues would be able to resume, he said: “We are pleased that the First Minister has again recognised the importance of football in Scotland.

"The decision to temporarily suspend parts of the professional game played by predominantly part-time teams was not an easy one to take. Nonetheless, given the sharp rise in infection rates caused by new strains of the virus at the start of the year, it was the right thing to do to assist the national effort to reduce its prevalence during lockdown."

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