'There are so many things we're unsure of' - Edinburgh City chief admits uncertainty over coronavirus shutdown

Citizens chief admits it is hard to know exactly how COVID-19 pandemic will affect club

Monday, 16th March 2020, 6:00 am
Ainslie Park, where Edinburgh City groundshare with Spartans

Edinburgh City are braced for “a hard slog” as clubs all across the Scottish football landscape attempt to navigate an unprecedented period of Coronavirus-induced uncertainty.

The Capital outfit were scheduled to have nine League Two fixtures over the next two months, with four home games bringing in vital revenue to keep the club ticking over financially.

As things stand, City have no idea if they will play any more fixtures within this period, or whether the season will be completed at all after the COVID-19 pandemic led to Scottish football being suspended “until further notice” on Friday, just over 24 hours prior to their scheduled match at home to Stenhousemuir.

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“Until we get some clarity, which will hopefully come after the various meetings this week, it’s very hard for us know exactly how it will affect us,” City chairman Jim Brown told the Evening News. “Like most other clubs at this level, we’ve not got a massive season-ticket base so we rely heavily on gate money. I’d say about 95 per cent of our gate money is walk-ups. In the last period of the season we’re due to have home games against Cove and Cowdenbeath, which are two of our biggest games, and then we’d also have the hope of a couple of play-off games.

'Financially - a big blow’

“We also rely on our matchdays for the corporate side of it, when people spend a wee bit extra on meals and things. Matchdays are our biggest stream, so, financially this is a big blow to us. We also do fundraising events - we’re meant to have one this Sunday with Tam Cowan and John Gaughan. At the moment it’s still on but we’ll just have to see how things pan out this week and whether people still want to come out and be in that type of environment.”

Because City groundshare with Spartans, they are slightly less exposed than some other similar-sized clubs who have their own stadium to service. “Player and staff wages are obviously the big outgoing for us,” said Brown. “On one side of it, we are quite lucky we’re groundsharing because we don’t have the overheads such as rates, electricity, gas and things like that.

“Because we don’t know if the season’s finished or not, though, we don’t know whether to stop our training. We’ve got training lets, which are quite a big expense but because we’re in limbo we don’t know whether to stop them at the moment or not. We train at Oriam. How long will Oriam stay open? There are so many things we’re not sure of. We just need to knuckle down and cut back on things as much as we can and try and bring in as much as we can through our supporters’ lottery and perhaps by trying to get our sponsors to help us out with an advance for next season.”

If the campaign is to be extended into the summer, it will create clear problems for lower-league clubs, with regard to player contracts, holidays and a potential scrapping of next term’s Betfred Cup group stage in July. “Players are entitled to their holiday pay, which is normally from when the season finishes until they come back for pre-season, so if dates are going to change we would give them time off now,” said Brown. “The problem we’ll have is that a lot of players will already have booked summer holidays because they will have been expecting to be off from the 16th May onwards.

Complications with contracts

“Most of our players’ contracts, if they’ve not got an extension, will expire on June 10 because that’s when the transfer window opens. So, for instance, if we were to start the season again in May and it runs through June, we’d have to look at the possibility of short-term contract extensions, which could be pretty complicated.

“I’ve heard it suggested that we might not be back in until July or August and that they might do away with the Betfred Cup. I hope that doesn’t happen because the Betfred group stages are a big earner for smaller clubs like us. It’s good prize money and you get the chance to play Premiership teams and get good gate money, so there are so many potential knock-on effects. It’s a very awkward situation for everybody.”

City currently sit second in League Two and look destined to finish in a play-off position if the season concludes as normal. Asked whether he would prefer the campaign to be null and void, terminated ‘as things stand’, or played to a finish over the summer and potentially beyond, Brown was remaining diplomatic. “It really doesn’t matter what we think because we’re just a very small pawn in the whole thing,” he said. “It will be the bigger clubs and the SPFL who decide what happens.

An ‘unprecedented situation’

“There are a few different options. I saw one proposal doing the rounds about bringing two clubs up from the Lowland League and making the Premiership slightly bigger. That would help us if it went through because the top two from each league would go up but it’s just one of several possibilities. It’s an unprecedented situation - nobody has all the answers. We just have to sit tight, see what happens and do our best to muddle through until we can get back.”

The City players are set to be given this week off from training until the situation becomes clearer. Brown is confident his club are robust enough to survive what promises to be a testing period. “If we get some clarity this week, we can decide on a plan going forward,” said Brown. “It’s a worry and it’s going to be a hard time for us but obviously the most important thing is the safety of the players, the supporters, and everybody in general. Football’s important but it’s not as important as keeping everybody safe. We just have to get on with it in the background and do what we can, but I think what we need most is clarity. It’s going to be a hard slog but we’re a strong, resilient bunch and we’re confident that by hook or by crook we’ll definitely get through it.”