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Lower league clubs back October start amid ‘demotion’ risk

Third-tier sides warned they could be placed in League Two for season 2021/22 if they opt to 'hibernate'.

League One and Two sides are in favour of beginning their league campaigns in October.

But clubs in the third tier have been warned they could be demoted if they choose to “hibernate” for a season due to coronavirus.

League One and League Two clubs have been sent a questionnaire by the SPFL asking them to indicate if and when they may be able to return to competitive action.

The options are: to commence in August with a 36-match season, which many clubs believe will be almost impossible; a start in October with a 27-match season; a start in December or January with teams playing 18 matches in the season; or hibernate completely.

In the document, the SPFL is urging clubs to be “open about their ability to play next season”, while stating that: “League One clubs should be aware that, should they decide not to play, and instead to hibernate for season 2020/21, this may result in their place in the division being taken by a League Two club that is willing and able to play.”

It goes on to say: “If a League One or League Two club decides that it will not be able to participate in the SPFL in season 2020/21, then it may only be eligible to participate in League Two in season 2021/22.”

Furthermore, the document states: “The SPFL will consider all options for establishing divisional competitions for those clubs that have stated that they will be willing and able to participate, and ensuring those who wish to play are provided with opponents.

“Such options might include an expanded League One division with all clubs who are able to play.”

STV has learned that SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster and secretary Iain Blair held meetings with the clubs on Monday to discuss the questionnaire and any concerns they may have.

Whilst there is an appetite to resume playing, concerns have been raised by member clubs, such as the testing of players and when paying fans will be allowed to attend matches.

At the moment the suspension of football has only been lifted for Premiership clubs with some resuming training earlier this month. The top-flight season is scheduled to begin on August 1, with a 27-game Championship programme set to return on October 17.

Professional sport can resume in Scotland from today, under phase two of the Scottish Government’s routemap out of lockdown.

Clubs from the bottom two tiers have been asked to complete and return the questionnaire by Friday.

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