Deputy Sport Editor Daniel Ross talks with the President of both the men's and women's football clubs in St Andrews to see how life has changed for the club on and off the pitch with all the new restrictions in place.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, few things at university have started the academic year in traditional fashion and sport in St Andrews is no different. In the coming weeks The Saint will be looking at a number of university sports, to see how they have adapted to the new conditions we find ourselves in, beginning with the Football Club. The Football Club was the first university sport to resume training, and through speaking to Club Presidents Molly Carlough and Luke Simboli, it is clear that through a great deal of preparation they have, so far, been able to adapt, and offer a positive experience to the club’s members, in spite of the global pandemic.
It was clear, when talking to the two Presidents, that pre-season was the biggest project facing the club in the summer months. Since as early as June, preparation began to create a safe environment for preseason. Molly emphasised that the process was a constant struggle of trying to make long term plans and then having to adapt, often having to go back to the drawing board, when yet more lockdown regulations were issued by the government. The most obvious change this year was that the tradition of hosting freshers for pre-season in club members houses had to be abandoned. Roadblocks like 14-day quarantines which became part of the regulation in early August also had to be taken into consideration. Yet, two weeks of pre-season was able to be executed safely. A track and trace system was rolled out which measured the temperature of all the players and numerous spreadsheets were made to collect the health data of every player taking part. Luke Simboli credits the director of football, Stuart Milne, along with the AU support staff, and numerous student volunteers with ensuring the safety of the camp. The club went above and beyond where safety was concerned, often far exceeding the measures and precautions laid out by the Scottish FA and Scottish Government. From temperature guns to a one-way system of entering and leaving the pitches, all bases were covered.
Moreover, Molly and Luke give a great deal of credit to the rest of the members of the Football Club’s committee, many of whom showed great enterprise and initiative to continue the Club’s presence on social media, conducting ZOOM quizzes and socials, or finding new volunteering opportunities during the off-season.
Despite uncertainty surrounding when play and regular matches will commence, there has been cause for celebration. This year has seen a record intake of freshers into the Club. Molly has pointed out this is perhaps due to Sunday league football not yet starting this year. Furthermore, the restrictions on socialising means that for a fresher (and the student population in general) sport is the key way in which students are able to meet and interact with each other, albeit under social distancing measures. Numbers have increased so greatly that both the men’s and women’s sections have seen new competitive teams being created for 2020.
This leads into perhaps the club’s most pressing problem, with a bumper number of freshers joining and heightened Covid restrictions, how does the club smoothly and safely integrate freshers into the teams? Both Molly and Luke were quick to answer this question. It was evident a great deal of thought had already gone into trying to solve this problem. Club Vice Presidents, Euan McKnight and Diala Talaat have already rolled out the Footballs Club’s Buddy Scheme which aims to connect a fresher with a number of older members of the club. Luke also floated ideas like golf days and football club day trips to different parts of Scotland (obviously only as and when lockdown restriction allows).
Further socials, which is another way to keep not just freshers but the club as a whole connected and integrated have continued since lockdown started back in March. Although not as frequent during the off season, the start of the year has seen Wednesday socials resume. The only difference is that Sandy’s Bar has been swapped for ZOOM.
Both Molly and Luke take a glass half full approach to the conditions which Covid has created. The Club can take time to reflect and focus on non-matchday aspects and characteristics of the club. Whilst there is much to celebrate, neither President denies that there are areas of the Club which can be developed and expanded. The Football club is known for its involvement in volunteering and charity. This time last year the Club had just completed a cycling expedition from St Andrews to Manchester to raise money for Burkitt’s Lymphoma. Since lockdown in March, the Club has set about pushing this emphasis on charity even further. The Women’s 1st XI collectively ran 4,022 miles. This is the distance from St Andrews to Brunswick, Georgia. This helped spread awareness of social injustice and police brutality in the wake of the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery. The Women’s 2nd XI followed this by conducting a ‘keepy-up’ challenge to raise money for Girls Embracing Mothers – a charity dedicated to supporting children of mothers who have been incarcerated. Beyond raising a substantial amount of money for both Say Her Name and Girls Embracing Mothers, it kick started a lot of self-assessment and education amongst members of the Club. This was both in terms of social injustice around the world and more specifically in St Andrews. The committee and club members in general are clearly striving to use the Club’s platform as a way to help spread awareness of and help eliminate injustice.
Volunteering is another area which continues to be advanced and improved, with the Vice Presidents this year becoming directly responsible for volunteering with many club members having already taken up opportunities to help coach within the club. Luke gave a special mention to, 1st team player, Matthew Irvine who has been invaluable in helping and leading coaching sessions since preseason and encouraging other members of the club to get involved in coaching. When restrictions ease volunteering will undoubtedly be expanded.
The Presidents of the club see many silver linings of the pandemic. Principally, the fact that tradition had to be broken and now, with so much new blood in the Club and less emphasis on match days, a fresh new approach can be taken to adapting and improving many aspects of the club. Already just three weeks into the semester the hunger to improve and adapt in a difficult environment radiates from this club.