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﹛﹛It had been a long time coming but as the sun split the skies it was time for Kirkconnel＊s heart to beat again.
﹛﹛A lunchtime stroll through the village yesterday gave little hint to the long-awaited occasion about to be played out close to the banks of the River Nith.
﹛﹛But turning left on to Needle Street and past the pink-fronted walls of the Queensberry Arms Hotel was a first glimpse of an open turnstile at the home of Kello Rovers.
﹛﹛Not since March 6, 2020 每 and a goalless draw with Carluke Rovers 每 had the club been able to welcome the men and women who keep football alive in this former mining community.
﹛﹛Covid had seen to that.
﹛﹛Having actually started last season in the West of Scotland League, Kello＊s committee closed the gates at Nithside Park in December as the second wave of the virus swept across the country.
﹛﹛There would be no comeback as the campaign was eventually declared null and void.
﹛﹛Many months of lockdown later and the first tentative steps forward were being taken as Auchinleck Talbot 每 the big-hitters from Beechwood Park 每 arrived for their first match since before the pandemic.
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﹛﹛※It has been big,§ Kello chairman Mark Keggans said of the impact of Covid, lockdown and not playing. ※The fans are messaging every week asking if they can come, how many are allowed in. It＊s not been easy, especially financially.
﹛﹛※We live week to week. We＊ve no backer. If you can＊t get the fans in every week, you can＊t do your football sheets or do your lotteries. You can maybe generate ㏒150 from them and it＊s not there.§
﹛﹛Starting last season was a gamble as games had to be played behind closed doors. Mark admits the squad led the way in ensuring Kello＊s survival.
﹛﹛※Our players never took a penny,§ he said. ※They forfeited everything but without that, we wouldn＊t have survived. The travel costs alone are crazy.
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﹛﹛※We were one of the original clubs who were going to be pulling out. But the boys talked us into playing and we managed it.§
﹛﹛And so it was back to relative normality at the weekend. Mark doesn＊t feel the game is ※out of the woods yet§ and the hoops which have to be jumped through to get the show on the road are considerable.
﹛﹛※The protocols have made me a nervous wreck,§ he insisted.
﹛﹛※I was up here this morning before seven o＊clock to get things ready. The place has not been touched since December when we locked the gates.
﹛﹛Kello Rovers chairman Mark Keggans
﹛﹛(Image: Ayrshire Live)
﹛﹛※You are glad to see the fans back but it does put an extra onus on the committee.
﹛﹛※It＊s hard for smaller clubs. We＊re not bad but a lot of the committees are a lot older and they are nervous. I feel for them.§
﹛﹛Entry on Saturday was by cash donation with a bucket sitting alongside sheets for fans to leave track and trace details.
﹛﹛The build up to the game had been overshadowed slightly by concerns that the maximum-permitted 250 capacity would be tested should Talbot fans travel along the A76 in huge numbers.
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﹛﹛In the end, only those with a DG postcode were encouraged to attend although you could see a few visitors who decided Dumfries & Galloway Council had annexed Auchinleck for the day.
﹛﹛No dressing room usage meant the two covered terraces on either side of the ground belonged to the players and backroom staff with punters dotted all round this basic, yet charming, venue.
﹛﹛And social distancing was maintained by fans just in case Professor Jason Leitch was passing through with his big stick.
﹛﹛Meanwhile, some folk watched from the Queensberry＊s beer garden and there was a small group viewing from a neighbour＊s veranda where the donation may have been merely a six-pack of Tennent s.
﹛﹛Fans returned to Nithside Park for the first time since March 2020
﹛﹛(Image: Ayrshire Live)
﹛﹛People enjoyed being back but it did feel different 每 and it will probably remain that way, perhaps, until a few months into next season.
﹛﹛There was a relaxed atmosphere off the pitch but it was played like a cup-tie on it with Kello turning in an excellent performance against their illustrious visitors.
﹛﹛Talbot had taken the lead 每 albeit in bizarre fashion 每 when Kello＊s Ally Smith emphatically thumped the ball into his own net from close range in an apparent attempt to clear the ball following a save from keeper Ryan Dunsmuir.
﹛﹛Smith had team-mate Mark Armour to thank for bailing him out as the striker squeezed home a penalty equaliser on the stroke of half-time.
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﹛﹛Talbot had much of the play and the better of the chances in the second half but Kello＊s enthusiasm, fitness and spirit caught the eye and Scott Clelland s troops more than deserved the 1-1 draw they achieved.
﹛﹛In truth, the scoreline didn＊t matter. This was a day to celebrate the game coming back, the fans＊ return and the ties that bind.
﹛﹛※The people in the area have done their best to keep us going,§ acknowledged Mark, who told how a joiner and plumber had fixed problems at the ground and not hit the club with invoices.
﹛﹛And while Covid uncertainty and nervousness still hangs in the air, Kello are on their way again 每 with their fingers crossed and face masks on.
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