As we near the end of a season like no other, a look back to how we managed to get football played at Forthbank.
It was clear that if we were going to get back to playing football and if season 2020/21 had any chance of being completed that extra-ordinary measures would have to be put in place.
After much consultation and reiteration, the Scottish Football Joint Response Group (JRG), comprising representatives from the Scottish FA and the SPFL, issued the governing Protocol Document entitled “Return to Matches”.
This is a weighty tome. A full 26 pages full of rules, regulations and guidance.
And we had to get Forthbank, its surrounds and processes, ready; and quickly!
A “Return to Playing” Group was set up from within the club resources and a Covid-19 Officer, Kenny Crichton, was appointed.
The “Return to Matches” Document describes how the area had to be split into three traffic lighted areas – Green for outside the ground, Amber for non-participants inside the stadium and Red for participants.
Each area is described in detail – how it was to be signed, the maximum number of people in each area, who could attend. Very detailed and challenging stuff.
The area behind the dugouts, normally used for hospitality guests, is designated a Red Zone and populated by substitutes and coaches. Other areas of seating in the stands are also declared Red Zones and cordoned off for “Team Talks” to ensure maximum occupancy rules and social distancing requirements are met.
The document limits the number of personnel that are allowed to attend and how many of each type. So Club Staff, Officials, Matchday Staff, Media, First Aid all have specific maximum number of attendees.
My role as Matchday Commander is to ensure that, not only are all the protocols in place, but they are being adhered to.
I needed a team of volunteers to support and assist. I reached out to people that I personally knew and who I thought could meaningfully contribute. Being a member of the Trust Board, that was my first port of call. Then I recruited others of my ken.
I created a pool of 12 people who would steward the ground and the attendees on Matchdays. The numbers of volunteers involved was small enough to ensure that the necessary training could be delivered quickly, but large enough to ensure that we could cover our requirements on Matchdays.
All of the volunteers were trained up on all the roles that need to be covered and on Matchdays we operate on minimum numbers, with a team of 6/7 Stewards.
The volunteers have to attend Forthbank a full three hours before kick-off. A significant commitment. They operate the Check-In and Test procedures at four restricted entrances.
There are two Entrances at the Monument End of the West Stand; one for the Home Squad and one for Match Officials. There is an Entrance at the Morrisons’ End of the West Stand for Club and Away Team Officials.
Over in the East Stand, we employ the two concourses under the stand as changing facilities for the Away Team. Each concourse is restricted in the numbers of people who can be in them at any one time. There are two Entrances in the East Stand, one for Players and Coaching Staff and one for media and scouts etc.
Each visiting club has to supply, in advance, the names of the people who require entry to the Stadium and they are advised by email, which entrance to use and at what time to arrive. Each group of attendees (or single individuals) receives a video showing them how to get to their appropriate entrance. No-one whose name isn’t on the list is allowed entry. Thankfully, this situation hasn’t arisen.
Each and every person – bar none – has to be name-checked and have their temperature taken by a Volunteer Steward before being allowed entry. Non-participants also have to answer a Health Questionnaire.
I’m pleased to say that the Volunteer Stewards have done a sterling job at Stirling and I thank them for their service; past and future.
I’m also pleased to say that for every match, Stirling Albion has stayed well within the strictly limited numbers for each group of attendees – as prescribed by the JRG “Return to Matches” Protocol.
A lot of paperwork and a lot of work in general – to allow football to be played at Forthbank.
Things are changing. Regulations are easing as the Covid-19 metrics show improvement but what will happen for next season? Will the restrictions and protocols be the same? Will fans be allowed in?
We don’t know.
But be assured, Stirling Albion will be ready.
I trust this update helps inform the complex and challenging issues that we face in staging matches at Forthbank but if anyone would like to discuss further, I can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
SAFC Match Commander