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Highland League season can still be played to a finish, says Wick chairman Miller


By Alan Hendry

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Ryan Campbell scores at close range for Wick Academy against Buckie Thistle on the opening day of the season in November. The Scorries, like most other teams, have managed only two fixtures so far. Picture: Mel Roger
Ryan Campbell scores at close range for Wick Academy against Buckie Thistle on the opening day of the season in November. The Scorries, like most other teams, have managed only two fixtures so far. Picture: Mel Roger

Wick Academy chairman Pat Miller reckons the 2020/21 campaign can still be played to a conclusion, even if it means carrying on well into May.

It was confirmed at the end of last week that the pause on all football below Championship level will remain in place until at least Sunday, February 14. Clubs were given an update by Highland League secretary Rod Houston at a virtual meeting of the league management committee on Monday night.

When competitive action does resume, Academy and other clubs are likely to face a tight schedule with a mix of Saturday and midweek matches in order to complete a fixture list that had already been shortened to 15 games each.

The league season began at the end of November and so far Academy, along with most other teams, have played only two fixtures. While the Scorries are keen to finish the campaign, an extension beyond April would present them with a dilemma as they hope to get started on repairs to the Harmsworth Park playing surface.

Miller said after Monday's meeting: “The league committee is still maintaining that the season will be finished, by hook or by crook. But, as Rod always says, there are a few imponderables – one of them being that the season has to be extended.

“I think the first and second division teams are trying to get that just now. If that works, it means we could then play well into May.

"It's doubtful if we'll get to play any football in February. Rod has got to redraw the fixture list and is looking at getting a fixture list up for possibly mid-March now.

“The guy is an eternal optimist. He is now looking at having to fit in Wednesday games, so if we go into March he is certainly talking about a lot of midweek fixtures.

Pat Miller: 'The way everybody is talking, we're not going to jump out of this lockdown right away.' Picture: Alan Hendry
Pat Miller: 'The way everybody is talking, we're not going to jump out of this lockdown right away.' Picture: Alan Hendry

"What he worked out is that he needed eight Saturdays. Now when those eight Saturdays start is in the hands of possibly Nicola Sturgeon, but he reckons if he could get eight Saturdays he could filter in midweek games.

"A question that was asked right at the end of the meeting was how long can we go before we decide that we have to take another decision? Fair play to Rod, he said possibly by the end of March we would have to start thinking about not playing the rest of the season. So he is still giving us two months to get going."

Miller added: “We know that our park is struggling badly. We would ideally like to put a bit of work in during the summer to try to fix whatever problems we have with our drains. The longer the season goes on, it makes it less likely that we can do that work.

“It's like a double-edged sword.

"The one thing that we don't want is to get started and then get stopped again – and that is one of Rod's imponderables.

"He reckons he can make a fixture list up. Personally, if it was to finish tomorrow, that would give me time to basically dig up the park and find out what's wrong with our drains. If not – let's get on with it.

“I know the protocols will be in place. I doubt if there will be crowd participation, but things can change from week to week so I am hopeful that in another two or three weeks we might get back to a tier one. If we get back to tier one we can have crowds.

"But it's quite a frustrating situation we're in – you don't know if you're coming or you're going.

"If we get a start date they'll give us two weeks' grace to get back training, because there's no group training just now. But the way everybody is talking, we're not going to jump out of this lockdown right away – it will be a phased return and it will go week by week.”

As well as the league suspension until at least February 14, the Scottish Cup has been affected. Fourth-round ties due to take place on Saturday, February 20, have been postponed and this date will be used provisionally for league fixtures instead.

The Scottish Football Association says a further update on the 2020/21 season will be given on Wednesday, February 10.

SFA president Rod Petrie said: “The conversations we have had with representatives from the clubs and leagues affected by the temporary suspension have been hugely beneficial.

"We have been able to further communicate the rationale behind the decision in the midst of an ongoing pandemic whilst also hearing at first-hand the most important issues facing clubs and leagues at each level of the game.

“We have also been greatly encouraged by the sense of togetherness shown by the clubs and the robustness with which protocols and measures have been implemented in the interests of player and staff safety within football.

“A number of initiatives have been suggested which may help to make the eventual return to playing efficient without compromising safety.

“The decision to extend the suspension is necessary given the Scottish Government’s own extension of existing lockdown measures. Football will play its part to support the collective effort to reduce the spread of the new variants of the Covid-19 virus.

“We are grateful for the input of all groups involved in our online discussions this week and we will continue to liaise ahead of our next public update on February 10.”


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