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Galabankies back in business

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By Euan Maxwell
Annan and Eskdale
Galabankies back in business

ANNAN Athletic are set to return to action later this month after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon gave the green light to resume play.

League One and Two clubs across the country have been waiting on the sidelines since lower tier football was suspended in early January.

But now after getting permission to continue the league, clubs have looked at various options on completing the season. There had been reports of shortening the league from 27 games to a 22-game campaign but the SPFL chiefs believe an 18-game season would be the best option.

However, all 20 clubs – who accept that completing a 27-match season is no longer achievable – have come together with the revised 22-game plan, which would see matches continue on March 20.

That would mean every team would have played the other twice, with two more home and two more away games to be decided by the league positions at that stage.

Clubs have called on the SPFL to extend the season to accommodate those games, saying only the side who finishes second bottom in the Championship would be impacted by delaying the play-offs.

In a statement on Thursday, the clubs say reducing the term to 22 matches would allow “a competitive end to the season” and that players “have made it clear” they want to play those games.

“With the enforced suspension of our leagues finally over, our focus is now on returning to play. There has been a lot of damaging speculation and, frankly, nonsense spoken about our two leagues and our direction of travel. This statement should make our position clear. Today, as a united group of 20 clubs, we have advised the SPFL that we plan to resume our season on March 20, with an immediate return to training this week while complying with the testing regime. With regret, we accept that a 27-game season is no longer open to us due to the timing of the return.

“We have spoken twice to Neil Doncaster in the last two days to discuss the options open to us in terms of the fixture schedule. The SPFL’s preference is for us to complete an 18-game season and we understand why – it is the easiest option, with potentially less pressure on the fixture schedule and no need to make any changes to the length of the season.

“However, the consensus amongst the 20 clubs is that a 22-game season is the preference, with a split in each league after 18 games, followed by four further games.

“It allows a competitive end to the season that our fans are keen to see and we want to participate in. We received money to test and to allow us to keep playing and that is what we want to do, not just run down the clock to the end of the season.

“The issue of player welfare is always a priority for us. But even with the demands of a tightened schedule, players have made it clear that they want to play. Covid may also play its part but with the same testing regime and protocols as the Championship and Premiership, we are in no worse a position than they are.

“To complete a 22-game season will mean extending the season to fulfil all fixtures, including those that may have to be rescheduled. But this is possible without impacting on anyone other than club 21 (ninth in the Championship) who may have to wait a maximum of two more weeks for the play-offs.”

Annan chairman Philip Jones backs the 22-game plan

Annan chairman Philip Jones believes this alternative is the best option on the table for the clubs. He also stated a 27-game league would be impossible at this stage due to the re-introduction of the Scottish Cup.

Annan are scheduled to play Highland League outfit Formartine United on March 23 and potentially host Motherwell the following Saturday, whilst Queen of the South will welcome Premiership side Hibs to Palmerston.

Jones said: “It is impossible to complete the 27-game league season and play the Scottish Cup ahead of the play-off dates in May.

“We actually went into the meeting thinking null and void was the best alternative, but the 22-game season proposal is achievable. We need to test players each game and before they start training.”

A decision is likely to be confirmed in the coming days and training should commence on Saturday.

Meanwhile, South of Scotland clubs have yet to be given a date regarding their return to training and playing.

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