Lesmahagow Juniors boss Robert Irving: “Crazy” situation prompted us to quit new league

Lesmahagow Juniors gaffer Robert Irving has blasted the “crazy” circumstances which prompted his 135-year-old club to quit Conference A of the crisis hit West of Scotland Football League.

Robert Irving won’t be managing Lesmahagow Juniors again until summer 2021 at the earliest

Lesmahagow have joined a growing number of clubs – including heavyweights like Auchinleck Talbot and Pollok – in scratching from the newly established competition, made up of a Premier League and three conferences, amid fears regarding player safety and financial viability in playing matches without fans in attendance due to the ongoing coronavirus restrictions.

“We made this decision because of the travelling we were asked to do,” Irving told the Carluke and Lanark Gazette.

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“Going to Maybole, Annbank, Ardeer, Craigmark, boys having to travel themselves in individual cars, no dressing room facilities, no shower facilities.

“First and foremost the health and welfare of the players is top of the list.

“We played a friendly at Carluke on Monday.

“Carluke played well, they beat us 7-2.

“It was a terrible wet night, the wind was blowing, quarter past eight kick-off.

“We came off that park just after 10pm and the boys were soaked to the skin. They went straight into their motors to drive home. That’s not right.

“So to ask boys to go those places, away to Craigmark or Maybole in the dead of winter, when the weather’s not going to be that great, and ask them to drive home without getting a wash, is absolutely crazy.

“And then the boys have to go to their work on the Monday. It’s a crazy situation.

“We thought that when the leagues got reconstructed due to teams pulling out initially that it would be more localised.

“But obviously that’s not the case.

“Pulling out of the league was tough because at the end of the day we want to play football on a Saturday.

“But when the likes of Auchinleck, Cumnock and Pollok pull out, that is a big statement to the rest of the other clubs.”

With no promotion and relegation in the conferences this season, the games will be seen as lacking that competitive edge.

Robert added: “We played three friendly games there and the mentality was: ‘Do we want to do this all season?’

“With nothing at stake and no edge to the games. The preparation is not right, we’re just devaluing the whole thing playing on as we are.

“You have got to get your preparations right for a Saturday with that competitive edge and it just wasn’t there.

“Rather than spend money which we’ve not got, playing non competitive football, we thought we would be as well just calling it a day and looking after the best interests of the players. And also looking after the best interests of the club to keep the club going.

“Having no spectators in has been a big factor as well because we’ve got a hardcore of a good wee fanbase.

“We’d be playing games with nobody there when our fans would want to be there. Playing down at Craighead Park or anywhere else in front of no spectators whatsoever just didn’t appeal to us.

“Clubs scrimp and scrape and live on any money they can get. Our income through the gate is what keeps us going. That had to be looked at as well but that wasn’t the main reason.

“The boys wanted to play on and we were wanting to give it a try but it really put a dampener on it when they brought the new leagues out and – at a time when the government’s telling you to keep your travelling down to a minimum we have been asked to travel 120-mile round trip to places to play a friendly game of football.

“Surely we can get a friendly game of football closer to hand?”

Although the Lesmahagow players had originally been keen to play on regardless this season, Robert revealed that they have now come round to the idea of not playing.

“The players are disappointed they can’t play but they fully support the decision and understand the decision,” Irving added.

“I know there are other teams still willing to play so I won’t stand in anybody’s road if they want to go and play football.

“So probably by next March or April we’ll have the job of rebuilding the team from scratch.

“There are a few boys have told me that they’ll stay and they’ll be here next year again, which is fine but who knows what next year will bring? It could be the same again.

“In the meantime, we’ll still have our committee meeting every month, we’ll see where we stand, survey the lie of the land round about us and hopefully the restrictions will be lifted by June or July next year and we can go again.”