Sandy Stewart returns home to see Scottish football closed down

Sandy Stewart left India as the coronavirus began to impact on its football and landed in Scotland with the pandemic having paralysed the Scottish game.

The former Airdrie boss spent over three months as assistant to Owen Coyle at Indian Super League side Chennaiyin and in that time the long-time management duo took them from joint-bottom of the table to the play-off final last weekend.

However, as the coronavirus took a grip of the country the showpiece match at the Fatorda Stadium, Margao, was played behind closed doors with Chennaiyin losing 3-1 to ATK.

Stewart then returned home to find Scottish football closed down due to the pandemic with no firm date for its return.

“One of the reasons for playing behind closed doors was to make sure the season finished,” the 54-year-old former Kilmarnock, Airdrie and Partick Thistle defender told the PA news agency.

“There were plenty of fans at the two home and away semis the week before.

“Up until we went away on the Sunday, there was only 73 known cases of coronavirus out of a population of well over a billion. I actually didn’t realise the scale of it here in Scotland until I came back.

“I heard it had been getting worse and football had stopped but until I actually touched down and seen the news and talked to people that I realised the extent of it.

“My son Scott plays for Arbroath and  can’t train with the team. He needs to go out and train himself, doing runs and trying to keep himself as fit as possible and they don’t have any games.

“The final over there was surreal. I think there were only 70 people allowed in between the two clubs and also officials and television technicians and people like that.

“I had never experienced that before. With two days’ notice we were told it was to be played behind closed doors.

“If people had asked beforehand do you want the final played but it was going to be behind closed doors, everybody would have agreed and in the circumstances it was the right thing to do.

“The strangest thing was the fact that you knew it was a final and the biggest game in the Indian League.

“I had watched Wolfsburg against Shakhtar Donetsk in a closed-doors game  on television and  you could hear every player shouting, it was a strange feeling and it was the exact same in the final.

“But when the game started you just got into the game that much, you blocked everything.”

Stewart and former Airdrie team mate Coyle’s travels have taking them from Wigan to Ross County to Houston Dynamo among other destinations and their success in India has elicited interest that will be considered in due course, after much-needed family time.

Stewart said: “My daughter had just had my first grandchild before I left so it is time to catch up.

“It was only meant to be 11 weeks over there but because we did that well, going from joint bottom of the league into the play-off and then the final, that extended the season for us.

“It was a very enjoyable experienced. The football was good,  the pitches were good, it was well organised.

“It was better than I would have given it credit for before I went out there.

“Each team is allowed seven foreigners who bring the standard up but there is some good young Indian players and they are only going to get better.”

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