Ally McCoist knows from experience what Scotland’s lower-league clubs bring to the game, and their communities.
Just months after insisting: “We don’t do walking away” as Rangers’ financial crisis deepened in February, 2012, he was in the dugout as his club began their climb back up from the bottom tier.
His visits to the likes of Annan, Elgin and Brechin re-affirmed his belief, first experienced as a St Johnstone player some 30 years earlier, that the so-called minnows have as much right to be in the game as the big fish.
Now, several of those clubs are standing on the edge of a cliff, and need fans allowed back into stadiums to prevent them from falling over.
But with the Government being firm with their stance of not allowing supporters to attend games any time soon – and also unable to offer any firm financial assurances of a bail-out should it be required – these are dark, dark times.
McCoist doesn’t want to see any of our clubs go to the wall, and he strongly includes our part-time teams in that assertion.
Having witnessed at firsthand the level of effort and commitment at the smaller outfits, he would hate to see any of them have to close their doors for good.
Echoing views expressed recently by current Ibrox boss, Steven Gerrard, and Chelsea manager, Frank Lampard, McCoist – who turned 58 last Thursday – hopes that football can find a way to save itself, but should be willing to explore every option available.
He told The Sunday Post: “I don’t want to be overly-dramatic or to be accused of scaremongering.
“But I think the financial situation is frightening, and could see some of our clubs having to shut down.
“I’ve listened to knowledgeable people on this situation, and they are predicting that the next few months could be disastrous for football – on both sides of the border – and it’s hard to disagree with them.
“There are some horror stories going around, and this threat to our football clubs is very, very real. We are not kidding on here.
“I want to see every club survive. I want to see all of our 42 senior clubs come through this unscathed.
“I also want the same outcome for the Highland and Lowland Leagues.
“But we don’t have a magic wand. Some serious work, some serious conversations and some serious amounts of money will be required to pull through this.
“And this situation isn’t exclusive to Scottish football.
“English clubs are feeling the pinch, too, and are concerned about how they will survive in the next six months if there are no fans allowed into their stadiums.
“Now, we had a great caller phone in to my TalkSport show the other morning. He made a great point that football shouldn’t be totally reliant on the government offering a financial package to save our clubs.
“He made it clear that it shouldn’t be up to the taxpayer to save clubs.
“Why? Well, he believed the first option to be looked at closely should be football trying to help itself, and people getting around the table to find answers and solutions.
“The guy was saying that when some people in the game are earning £250,000 a week, shouldn’t the game look inwardly to sort it out and save the clubs in danger of going under?
“I think the point is 100% valid. The game should want to save itself, first and foremost.
“There is enough money floating around to be spread out to help save those most in need.
“If the government can help and make a contribution, then that’s great.
“But we can’t look to the government for all the answers. And there isn’t a perfect and realistic answer out there, unfortunately.
“Whatever happens, I just hope that in six months’ time, every club is alive and well.
“I think of clubs such as Peterhead and Berwick Rangers, and all the other clubs we played against when I was the Rangers manager, and we played down the divisions.
“That was one of the great educations of my career, seeing all of that.
“I also had it as a 16-year-old when I first joined St Johnstone, and I’ve not forgotten that.
“But I recall the different people involved at the smaller clubs, all doing their bit to keep it going and give their community a focal point.
“It all came back to me when I was at Rangers, and being down the leagues wasn’t where we wanted to be.
“But we were there, we embraced it and got on with it.
“I’ve got some cracking memories from that whole experience, dealing with the smaller clubs, especially when we were away from home.
“Whether it was being offered a slap-up meal of steak pie, potatoes and veg at the local social club before kick-off at one of the games, or being asked to draw the raffle for a club before kick-off, it was all good.
“The hospitality and warmth towards us all was first-class. I really appreciated the efforts everyone put in to keep their club going and thriving.
“Most of those involved are volunteers, and don’t get paid. Some of them are washing the strips, cleaning the dressing rooms or lining the pitch.
“They all make a contribution and play their part in bringing everything together on a match day.
“I’d hate to see any community lose that. It would be horrible.
“The full-time teams might get more publicity and the spotlight is on them more, but the part-time clubs are just as important. We mustn’t lose sight of that.
“Indeed, my big pal, Ian Durrant, is assistant manager at East Kilbride in the Lowland League.
“I know how much he enjoys his job, and the work that has gone into putting it all in place over the past few years as the club has grown and developed, thanks to some of the locals.
“I play six-a-sides every week with Mark Wilson and Simon Donnelly. They are in charge of Brechin City, and they work damn hard to keep it all ticking over every week.
“We need to keep our game going, at all levels. But it is not going to be easy.”
McCoist also feels for the fans not getting in to see their teams every week.
He said: “The supporters are everything. They make the game what it is.
“Playing for Rangers and Scotland and all of my other clubs, I was fortunate to have received some brilliant backing from the fans.
“They gave me their all, and I tried my best to give them a happy weekend.
“It must be hard on them being locked out just now.
“We thought we had light at the end of the tunnel earlier this month when fans were allowed into Ross County and Aberdeen.
“It all seemed to go well, but plans for that to continue have been cancelled again.
“There has now been rumours that they might not be allowed in for the rest of this season.
“That would be catastrophic. I actually don’t really want to think about that scenario.
“But the facts are that it could be a reality. But let’s be positive, and hope that it’s not.
“Maybe come January or February, we’ll have fans getting back in – even if it is just three or four thousand at a time.
“That would be a step in the right direction, and one I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for.
“Will we ever see 50,000 at Ibrox and 60,000 at Parkhead between now and May?
“It’s probably unlikely, but we don’t know for sure. It’s all guesswork just now.
“We have to try to be positive, but we can’t lose sight of the negative things that may be on the horizon.
“Let’s hope everyone can work together to make sure every club survives, and people keep their jobs.”
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