Lochar Thistle Club Secretary Russell Caskie: Coronavirus, Goals and Summer Football

How has your season been affected by the ongoing pandemic?

We’ve played right up until December there and then obviously we went on a couple of weeks break over Christmas and New Year. The Covid cases in the Dumfries and Galloway area were really, really bad. The numbers before Christmas were a way low and then over the Christmas and New Year have shot Dumfries to the top of the list.

A number of clubs in the south of Scotland league had a lot of concerns about playing so we had an Emergency meeting through Zoom maybe 10 days ago where we decided as a league, as members that we would pause until our area out of the restrictions basically. If the SFA (Scottish Football Association) came back and said we were allowed to play but we were still in tier 4, our league wouldn’t start until restrictions came down a bit.

I can only imagine running a lower league club during these uncertain times has been really difficult?

Trying to run a club in these times has been hard, obviously I’m the secretary so there’s been a lot of online things to comply with. We’re a small committee, we don’t have a lot of committee members and obviously we are all volunteers, so it’s kind of a case of getting everybody trained up as up as covid coordinators and making sure we have enough stewards for home games and also trained people to attend training every week.

Off the park it’s been kind of hard trying to get sponsors on board this year but we’ve managed to get a few so that’s helped the club a long a little bit. We actually play at a campus in Dumfries called the North West Community Campus and between us and Queen of the South ladies and girls, we control the campus. We were quite fortunate that we were still able to train right from the very start, even though it was non-contact to start with. Although we don’t have our own stadium or ground, we did have facilities that were there for us. We didn’t have to do any upkeep where as other clubs have to cut the pitch, paint things and keep their ground in order.

All in all I think we have done well as a club to comply with what has been set out.

With the league now paused indefinitely do you think there may be a chance of Summer football ?

It’s been a topic for a number of years in the South of Scotland league, the old secretary campaigned for Summer football years ago, this was before Lochar Thistle joined the league in the 2013/14 season. Dick Shaw, who is well respected in this area, campaigned for Summer football for years but he always got knocked back every single year by the clubs. Theres has been talk from a few teams, I don’t know if it’s tongue-in-cheek because Dick still attends meetings, people have said why don’t we get football then Dick. I think it would be very close now, there would be a few clubs that wouldn’t want and a few clubs that do want it. For ourselves I’m not entirely sure how we would feel regarding that, I don’t know what our view would be on that.

Players are registered up until the 30th of June so lets just say football was stopped for a couple of months there is scope that our season could carry on until the end of June. The West Juniors play right through if teams are successful in cups but down in Dumfries it’s normally the middle of May it’s finished. The South of Scotland are part of the pyramid so if the champions of our league got to a play-off to go in to the Lowland league, I think the play-off date is the end of April to the start of May, it would be hard for that.

Since we are part of a school we don’t have access to any changing facilities at all at the moment due to the Covid situation where as a majority of clubs in our league do have some areas for changing. Some of our boys are turning up ready to play, some are getting changed in their cars and in the winter time that’s quite difficult on the players so in that sense summer football would be good.

Is having access to your own facilities a long-term goal for the club or is that something you don’t really think about?

We always did have our own ground but it wasn’t until 2008 when the area we played got sold off and they are in the process of building houses there now. So we ended up no pitch, looking for pitches, moving between a couple and we got settled at this school which was a grass pitch at the time. The school was then getting knocked down so we had the opportunity of moving to the campus, which was a 3G facility which was ideal.

There is a club in Dumfries called Lochar Thistle Youths, which has got nothing at all to do with Lochar Thistle Football Club, and they have their own cracking facility, a grass pitch and an indoor centre there. The two clubs had a big fall out in the late 80’s early 90’s.

In previous years Lochar Thistle have approached the youths to try get both clubs joined together. Talks have been going on for a while but we never really made the breakthrough. It’s quite sad to be honest because I think there’s maybe 14 boys of our squad who were part of Lochar Thistle Youths but haven’t come through the ranks if you know what I mean.

We are very lucky and happy where we are at the campus, the only bug bearer especially of mine is the club lack a little bit of identity with not having our own ground. However, we’ve got full use of the facility, there’s a big gym inside, games halls, physio rooms and our own office so it’s decent in that sense but we haven’t got our own little ground. If we got in with youths a few years back we could’ve made one big happy club but who knows what could happen in the future.

Were there any plans or short-term goals laid out for this Season?

This season was really our managers first full season, he took-over the club a quarter through last season and we were kind of struggling at the time player wise. Nearing the end of last season Scott came to the committee and agreed to take the club on for 20/21 season because at the start of last season he was just care taker manager, so this year was his first year. He did say that he kind of had a three year plan in place to get his own boys in, his own set way of playing, his own training methods and things like that. I actually feel sorry for him in a sense that Covid has arrived and stopped in his tracks.

We started playing a wee bit better just before the league was stopped there. We had a hard start with new boys coming into the club. Hopefully the boys stick with us and then Scott can push on, get the season finished and restart again.

Has Covid made a difference to the way you sign new players to the squad?

We are actually a self-funded club so we don’t pay our players, there are 4 or 5 clubs in our league who allegedly pay players which is fair play to them as if that’s what attracts players then all the best to them. In the past if some teams offered a bit of money to players they would be off.

As for getting trialists in for training it’s difficult as well because obviously numbers are limited so you can’t really get them in. You normally arrange friendlies midweek for the boys needing game time to push them on a little bit but that’s been stopped as well.

We normally try get a couple boys from Queen of the South on loan but there recruitments took a dent as well I think. The boys they have at Queen of the South are getting loaned out to lowland league teams, which are obviously a much higher level than ourselves. It’s difficult happy medium getting boys in to be honest.

As a self-funded club how difficult is it for you to raise the funds needed in this current climate?

The main part which keeps the club running is our weekly letters draw where we actually ask the players to sell/contribute to this each week. We were also fortunate to get money from the Scottish Government through the SFA.

All the money we get in goes back to the players as much as possible. We normally have fundraising race night or something every year that tides us through but obviously we haven’t been able to have one of those this year. We were fortunate enough to get money from the SFA, which obviously we’re very grateful for. We have had to use club funds for various essentials for the acquiring vital equipment for Covid regulations such as sanitising stations, signage, temperature guns etc.

Do you think the return of fans could maybe be beneficial for the club?

We’re not a club that relies on fans. Dumfries guys go watch Queen of the South but when they aren’t playing we will maybe get a few floating fans at a game or its parents who are watching. It’s not as if we are a Junior team who has got 50 hardcore fans, we’re just have people who just want to watch game. We’re just a small club.

What was the initial reaction from the South of Scotland league when they were told to stop playing football?

You do hear a few people say we want to keep playing, I think everyone wants to keep playing, but with the numbers in the Dumfries area it isn’t possible. Before the announcement we were due to train on Thursday night but the management cancelled it on the Wednesday and one of the boys said good decision about cancelling training because I can’t see my Dad unless you put him on a signing on form and he can come to training.

Does it help knowing that Lochar Thistle aren’t the only club impacted by the pandemic and that the rest of the clubs in the league are going through the same thing?

Yeah definitely. Some clubs are better off than others, a lot of clubs speak to each other, chairmans speak, managers speak and lots of the of the players speak to each other as well. I think the way a lot of clubs are in our league we’re a close knit league, there is not a lot of animosity. The majority of us are on the same wave length for things so its good in that sense. There’s a lot of little of villages who have teams in our league, so I think the communities near these other clubs rallied round them to see them through.

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