Coronavirus: Can the Juniors survive the shutdown?

Auchinleck Talbot are the most successful Junior club in Scotland, with 13 cup wins
Auchinleck Talbot are the most successful Junior club in Scotland, with 13 cup wins

No games, no banter in the stands, no pies, no revenue. It's now been almost a month since football stopped in Scotland, with no prospect of it returning on the horizon.

Unlike their counterparts in the SPFL, Junior clubs are having to tackle financial worries without updates from Uefa or potentially advances on league payouts. So what faces them in the months to come?

Who are the Juniors?

Junior football has existed since 1886, representing clubs that did not exist within the Scottish FA system. The term "Junior" has been there from the start and simply refers to a club that is not within the professional set-up.

These days, the association is affiliated to the Scottish FA but remains proudly distinct, made up of 133 member clubs playing across 11 leagues, split into three regional divisions - West, East and North. They also take part in the Junior Scottish Cup and local cup competitions.

Some enjoy average crowds as large as 500-600, rivalling many within the lower reaches of the SPFL, and play key roles in the community. While reports of a plan to join the SPFL pyramid, Junior football remains a cornerstone of Scottish football.

Will communities rally round?

Those fans are the main source of income, but many are elderly and especially at risk at the moment. Similarly, the volunteers who help the clubs run are within that age group too.

"A lot of our smaller clubs are quite resilient but the spectator is important," says Tom Johnston from the Scottish Junior Football Association. "They buy their pies and Bovril and they pay their admission fee, then they buy a raffle ticket.

"Without that it's going to be difficult, but most of our clubs are based in small-to-medium-sized communities. In times like this, I imagine they'll rally around. Hopefully that will help see us through."

Beith Juniors fans celebrate at the 2016 Scottish Cup final
Beith Juniors fans celebrate at the 2016 Scottish Junior Cup final against Pollok

'Everything is cancelled; it's a big worry'

Without gate money and social club takings, clubs are having to get inventive.

"Everything is cancelled - testimonials, fundraisers, etc," says Auchinleck Talbot secretary Henry Dumigan. "It's a big worry because we were coming into a heavy fundraising part of our calendar."

The Ayrshire club, winners of the Junior Cup a record 13 times, have found ways to work around the lockdown. Rather than run a weekly or monthly fundraiser that requires helpers to go door-to-door around the village, fans can now sign up and pay with a bank transfer.

Some have even offered to pay for next term's season ticket six months in advance.

"It's great to know that people are thinking about you and that we've had these offers," adds Dumigan. "We'll certainly consider that over the coming weeks."

The Ayrshire side haven't had a home match since 8 February and Dumigan says matchdays account for about 80% of the club's income during the season. That means players are not getting paid.

"They've realised that everyone is taking a hit with this," says Dumigan. "If there's nothing or very little coming in then we have to control what's going out to ensure the future of the club. It's not easy to tell players that."

Dunigan remains hopeful government aid will save the day, saying: "It would be very helpful. Can the country really afford to let clubs go to the wall? I don't think so. It would be a big loss to different communities."

'I miss going to the games with my dad'

What about the fans? Are they going through withdrawals?

"The thing I'm missing the most is going to the games with my dad," says Steven Livingston, 30, who has been supporting Pollok since he was a child. "It's not just the 90 minutes it's the whole experience. Travelling to matches, living through the highs and lows, and the post-match beer."

Pollok, who play in the south of Glasgow, are wedged between League Two side Queen's Park to the south-east and Rangers to the north, but Livingston believes Junior clubs have a deeper connection to local fans.

"Pollok have done well to try and re-engage with the community," he says. "It's not like the Talbots and other teams in Ayrshire where the teams are almost the lifeblood. But I would say that, generally speaking, Junior clubs do have better connections to their communities than SPFL clubs.

"It would be a tragedy if the club were to fold as a result of this. But no business is safe."

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