What about players with uncertain futures amid Scottish football chaos? – BBC News

Scotland striker Lawrence Shanland knows what it’s like to be without a club and says out of contract players need help

Around 500 players in Scottish football become free agents at the end of every season and, with the coronavirus pandemic inflicting dire financial consequences on clubs, many of them are facing unemployment.

The voices of players can struggle to be heard amid the ongoing furore around the SPFL vote on ending the season and league reconstruction.

So what do they think? BBC Scotland has spoken to three players at different levels of the game to find out.

‘The focus should be on securing income’

Lawrence Shankland may not be facing dire consequences, with a deal until 2022 with now Premiership side Dundee United, not to mention links with bigger clubs and a cap for the Scotland senior side.

However, the 24-year-old talks from a position of experience having almost dropped out of the game after being released by Aberdeen in 2017.

He was unemployed for three months before Ayr United of the Championship picked him up and launched his career exponentially. Having felt what it is like to not know when your next payslip is coming, he feels players are being forgotten amid the storm.

“I know that reconstruction and the top league does need to get discussed. But alongside that, players who are out of contract should be getting some backing,” Shankland says.

“The full focus should be on them securing some sort of income over the term they might be without a club because clubs aren’t going to be able to sign players.

“Give them some sort of security so they know that, even if they don’t get a contract in football after that, they’ve got a few months of income to keep them ticking over through this hard time and that gives them the chance to get involved in education or whatever.”

During his period without a club, Shankland qualified as a personal trainer as a back-up. Getting another qualification is something he encourages others to do and even now takes comfort in because, depending on how long the lockdown lasts, he knows even those in his position are not guaranteed security.

“I’ll always have it now and it sets me up in good stead. Just now it’s quite uncertain times for football and, if football isn’t to work out, I have something I can go straight into and enjoy it.”

‘You have a month, then uncertainty’

Bob McHugh, a product of Motherwell’s academy and formerly of Falkirk, is one of those in a more precarious position. As a full-time footballer with Championship club Greenock Morton he does not have another job on the side yet, and he is out of contract in June.

Along with the rest of the Morton squad he is being paid through the government’s job retention scheme. But after that?

“It’s in the back of your mind that you have another month of wages and then it’s uncertainty,” he told BBC Scotland.

“There’s people in harder situations, but it is a worry and you hope this blows over sooner rather than later so that you have an income coming in.

“With a young family, it’s concerning this could impact us financially for the next couple of years.”

What McHugh has in his favour – which is not the case for all footballers – is he is working towards a qualification. His subject of choice is gas engineering.

“I’d definitely encourage players to start thinking about that,” he said.

“With the current situation, you consider all scenarios. There is a route for me to maybe play part-time and do gas stuff on the side. That’s an option I could look at in the summer.”

‘We’re trying to set up other careers’

Chris Higgins, 34, has a part-time contract at League One club East Fife for another year but his other role is working with the players’ union, PFA Scotland, as a personal development officer.

Unlike its counterpart in England, which benefits from a large funding boost from the Premier League’s lucrative television deal, the union is a small operation. It would usually host a trial day for out-of-contract players to showcase their talents to managers and scouts, but in the current circumstances that won’t happen.

So what is being done to help players?

“I’m in the process of searching for various online resources for players,” Higgins explains.

“We are putting together bespoke courses for PFA Scotland members. There’s going to be an IT course, so that players can improve their computer skills, and a Spanish course.

“We’re also putting on an employability skills course which involves building or improving a CV and doing different interview techniques.”

Most players in the lower leagues are currently on furlough, which buys some time until the end of their contract or to the end of June. But chairmen have spoken of clubs facing extinction when that lifeline stops, which makes this period critical for players.

“A lot of players I’ve spoken to don’t know what they want to do, so I’ve tried to help them start that process and plan for the future,” Higgins added.

“I’m trying to help as many players as I can find that path to a second career. Sometimes the hardest bit is the first step, but once you’ve done that you might get a taste for it and progress from there.”

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