STEVIE FARRELL is getting used to being asked questions about the impact of coronavirus on the local game. The Stranraer manager has been a much-sought voice for his opinion on a source of matters affecting the SPFL’s lower-league clubs: from information on contracts to the daily financial predicament that most clubs find themselves in.

When Farrell speaks, it is easy to understand why; during the ceaseless churn of complicated, round-the-clock messaging that has accompanied the outbreak, he relates with the clear-headed sense of a seasoned diplomat; but also with the compassion of someone who realises that the most important of the least important stuff is of secondary consideration in an upside-down world.

“I think football needs to know its place at a time like this,” he says. “I think sometimes we put ourselves on a pedestal. The pedestal in life at the minute is the NHS and the experts in science and medicine trying to drag us through this. Really, footballers, managers, clubs, they pale into insignificance.

“At the same time, people’s livelihoods are at risk because of this. It’s a worrying time – a lot of part-time footballers and smaller club players are no different to the general workforce where they have got the uncertainty hanging over them about the medical issues with family, friends and loved ones but they’ve also got the uncertainty around their employment as well. It really is a surreal time. Unprecedented? Absolutely.”

Unprecedented. He uses the same word to describe much of what passes for everyday life in the shadow of a pandemic. Not only is Farrell the manager of a struggling SPFL club, he is also the regional secretary for Scottish prison guards’ union Community.

As someone used to dealing with the common footballer’s foibles, Farrell needs the intestinal fortitude of an army chaplain. This comes in handy when wearing his other hat, looking after his union members’ interests, especially in a closed-quarters environment such as prison.

When we speak, Farrell has not long put the finishing touches to a press release dealing with the outbreak of Covid-19 in HMP Kilmarnock where last week two prisoners tested positive. It is also a week in which Iran has released thousands of prisoners to help combat the spread of the virus, a decision which left Farrell baffled and provides a rare moment of levity.

“If I’m being honest, academically, it’s beyond my comprehension why they would do that. But I can absolutely guarantee that won’t be happening here,” he says before going on to stress the potential challenges to controlling the spread in prisons.

“In the prison service you have a fraternity where immune systems are not the highest for obvious reasons. You have got probably 600 to 900 prisoners in some prisons in Scotland and you have staff working with them in confined areas and they’re in regular contact with each other, so it’s about controlling prisoner movement and all those things to ensure both prisoner safety and prison staff safety. It’s difficult because the one thing that this virus will not stop will be the need for prisoners to be securely and responsibly looked after during this time.”

If the labyrinthine complexities of his job occupy a significant part of his focus, the 47-year-old spends large chunks of the rest of his time on Stranraer. It frustrates him that the consensus from outsiders is that his club is in relative clover financially due to January’s Scottish Cup fourth-round match against Rangers. He says it’s more complicated than that.

“In terms of Stranraer’s situation – and I think it was the chairman [Ian Dougan] who said this – people seem to think that when you play Celtic and Rangers you get a million pounds. We probably got enough to clear the overdraft, but bear in mind that we had five weeks without a home game, so without any cashflow we had to use some of that money to pay the wages.

“When you look at the overall wages at the football club – and this is not just the players, this is everybody at the club, including the people who work in the lottery and at the stadium – I think it is £4500. Over five weeks, there’s another £23,000-£24,000 of that Rangers money gone. If you take the next 10 or 11 weeks and you do those calculations again, there’s probably not a great deal of the Rangers money left.”

Recently Farrell’s brief has tended to centre on answering questions about what happens next in Scottish football following the government’s enforced lockdowns across all facets of society.

He touches on a theme that he had explored in a podcast a few days earlier and to the Press Association a couple of days later: the idea of rebirth and how Scottish Football might use this crisis as a starting point for meaningful dialogue around league reconstruction.

On Thursday, details of how a reconfigured pyramid might look appeared for the first time in a blueprint entitled SPFL Reorganisation: Accommodating the premature end of season 19/20 and creating a manageable structure for the future of Scottish football and while it is not reflective of how Farrell thinks a reconfigured set-up should look, it is notable that his views appear to be indicative of the general mood music in the lower leagues.

Asked what any prospective new structure might resemble, Farrell says he likes the idea of increasing league sizes.

“Forgetting this situation, and how horrific it is, I have always felt that there should be a restructuring of the leagues. I think the leagues as they are set up just now, playing each other four times a season, devalues the leagues.

“Someone made a suggestion to me the other day that I thought was very good: if you promoted four from the Championship, four from League 1, four from League 2 and two each from the Lowland League and the Highland League, then in the Premiership alone you would have the Ayrshire derby, the Highland derby, the Edinburgh derby, the Glasgow derby.

“In terms of your TV revenue there would be an appetite for those derbies, in terms of the money they would pay. Then if you go into the Championship you would get some decent derbies, and the Championship is subject to some decent coverage. It’s certainly worth a meaningful discussion.”

He is keen, however, to point out that this is not some form of back-door opportunism aimed at securing Stranraer’s League 1 status – they had won just two games all season – or the chance to capitalise on the uncertainty brought on by coronavirus. Instead, his preference would be to play the remaining games, however remote that possibility now seems.

“I would have loved to have seen the season out. I still truly believe that we could have [stayed up]. Eight points [behind] with nine games of football left, particularly in League 1, where everybody is capable of picking points up off each other, I never at any stage felt that was insurmountable. If we went back to the league tomorrow I still believe that we could overturn that.”

With a game in hand on ninth-placed Forfar and matches against them and fellow relegation strugglers Peterhead remaining on the schedule, the idea Stranraer might have hauled themselves clear is not as outlandish as it first seems but Farrell accepts that it, and every other title, promotion and relegation outcome, will likely now be confined to endlessly futile debates.

“Do I look at it selfishly from Stranraer’s point of view? Absolutely not. I try to look at it as objectively as I possibly can. I deal in the legal world and I just see so many litigation challenges, contract challenges and commercial challenges, but there needs to be a decision to end sooner rather than later. We deserved to be bottom of the league on March 10, we did, there is no issue with that. But, do I believe that Stranraer would have been relegated? No, I don’t.”