Last weekend, Scottish youth football was given the green light to play friendly matches for the first time since March - when all football was put on hold due to COVID-19.
On Saturday 12th September, six months after the enforced cancellation, an eager Dumbarton United 2005s faced off against Clydebank FC at the Mountblow pitches in Clydebank, in a game that ended 1-1.
The goals came by way of a well-struck free-kick from Clydebank’s number 9, Ben Vine
and a delightful chipped finish from Dumbarton United’s number 6, Murdo Burch, both in the second-half.
However, the result was not important, as it was great to see the players making a welcome return to action.
The game was very different from a reporting/spectating view. Not being able to go near the action and standing outside of the fenced pitch, not being able to interact and properly interview players, coaches and the referee.
This ‘new normal’ will be very strange to get used to for everyone in football, but the most important thing is that all players, coaches and spectators are safe and that youth football has returned, despite only being for pre-season at the moment - most leagues across the country have varying starting dates ranging from September until the end of October.
We spoke to players, coaches and the referee after the game via social media and email to ask their thoughts on the return to football, the changes and challenges which they face in the new normal and how it felt to be back at football games.
Dumbarton United’s captain, Vincent Neill told YFS: ”I was really excited to play because we’d been working hard at training for a while without any notice of when games would return.
“Personally, I thought it was great to get back even though it wasn’t competitive.
“There were not any massive changes in my usual routine however it was odd not to shake hands with the referee at the beginning of the match, or to shake hands with the opposition at the end of the match.
“Besides the standard social distancing measures, it was pretty similar to playing a normal match on a Saturday which was good.”
Dumbarton United’s head coach, David Lavery echoed his captain’s sentiments: “It felt great being back in action today… I woke up buzzing for the game.
“You could see in how the boys started the game today how much they were up for it. Six months is a long time to not have played a game, so it was very pleasing to see the boys back on the pitch again.
“Being in lockdown and then not being able to play has been so hard for them both physically and with their mental health.
“The attitude since we have come back has been amazing and that’s because the boys realised how much they missed their football.
“Adapting to the new measures has been weird but we are doing everything right not just as a team but as a club and it’s important that the boys feel safe in the environment we have at training and at games.
“I know that parents and maybe some of the boys were anxious about coming back but it’s the new normal now.
“If we want football to continue then it’s important we are all doing our bit to ensure we are following the rules that have been put in place.”
Clydebank’s coach, Kenny Vine told us his view on the game and changes: “It was great to
finally have a game after six months. Coaches and players alike were excited to get on the field today.
“The changes didn’t make too much of a difference to the match in general. It's the build-up and after the match which is difficult with no changing rooms and shaking hands. Turn up, play and go home.
“It’s not ideal but we’ll take it if it means we can play.”
In conclusion, the changes were of course noticeable but didn’t totally change the flow of the game. When speaking to those involved and thinking about my experience at the game, it seemed that the experience was a positive one that will hopefully be improved as restrictions are lifted more across the country.
This is the first step on a long journey to the eventual destination that is football at all levels across the country having full-capacity crowds.