After recent guidance from the North West Counties, they announced they intend to start the season on the 3rd of October with fans (This is subject to change as it could be brought forward or delayed further). Over the weekend I caught up with our Captain Matt Woolley to discuss how our preparations are going ahead of the new campaign . However, when speaking to Matt, it became clear that there are more challenges than ever to be ready for the new season.
“It’s difficult because we now have a confirmed date, but it still seems as if it may go on and on where we don’t have sufficient information as players to prepare to hit our peak once the season is up and running. I think we all need a final date confirmed, which we thought we had so it removes the uncertainty that we are currently experiencing. We don’t want to go on and on playing friendlies without knowing when the season will start because the whole benefit of those games will run out.”
Despite this, Woolley told me that the intensity in the training sessions has to rise ahead of the planned date of the 1st of September in the FA Cup .
“The sessions so far have been good, it’s great being around the lads and ultimately whether the season starts on the target date or not, we have to plan on that being the case. Over the next few weeks, we’ll see the intensity in the sessions increase and become more competitive. The only way we are going to become sharper and get our match fitness back is by playing friendlies so hopefully that can happen in a Covid secure manner.”
One potential challenge that Matt raised was the issue of playing games against sides situated in a local lockdown.
“I personally don’t think you can start a season if local lockdowns are going to be in place. If people can only see their households, can they still play games and come to training or is that also now not allowed. It’s only going to prolong a season. If these situations are going to occur, what you’ll find is teams will have players at different stages; some will be fit, others may be getting to fitness and there will be those that are completely unfit. If we start playing games in these situations, the quality of those will be reduced and may not be reflective of a somewhat ‘normal season.’
With FA and Government guidance ruling that any pre-season games will be played behind closed doors, Matt explained that one of the biggest concerns for players is the matchday experience they will encounter.
“For me none of my family are high risk, so I can be confident that I won’t be affecting anybody close to me, but that can’t be generalised for everybody. There could be some players who can’t commit to playing a full season at this stage because they can’t put loved ones at risk. However, the biggest concern for us as players is the matchday experience. For example, changing facilities will be unavailable, we won’t be able to shower after games. Everybody will be sweating, which can potentially carry the virus and we will have to go home in the same kit we’ve just played 90 minutes in. That’s why for me personally, it’s much more difficult to say let’s play football again, if the conditions we are playing under aren’t clear.”
However, in preparation for the forthcoming season, Woolley said that they need to be more clinical in front of goal and also tighter as a defensive unit.
“One of the things we have been working on so far is our shape and the way we play our games. We saw a lot of times last season there were games where teams decided to sit back and protect either their lead or trying to take a point against us, so this season we have to become more clinical. Even though we were the best side in terms of goals scored and least conceded, there’s always ways to improve and Wayne and Paul have been helping us with that so far in pre-season. We’re learning to take our chances even more so when they come because that’s what is going to propel us to the next level in our hunt for promotion.”