The last few months have seen huge changes in the way we live our lives. From the way we shop to the way we exercise. The way we communicate with loved ones to the way we work.

Grassroots football may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things but to many people, it plays a massive role in their lives. Whether that’s the enjoyment of coaching and watching people develop. The camaraderie and feeling togetherness that we all feel when being part of a team. Or the escapism from the strains of our every day lives for a few hours on a weekend.

When lockdown was confirmed back in March all of those things were lost to a huge extent for months. So whilst a huge degree of caution has to be maintained in the knowledge that we aren’t out of the woods yet in terms of this pandemic, the relief that the beautiful game is slowly returning to our parks and playing fields is massive to those involved.

Earlier this week we heard from Braunton Ability FC about how their club dealt with the challenges posed by the pandemic. For the next part of the Grassroots In Lockdown series, we chatted to Jonny Wilson, the Chairman of Harworth Colliery FC. The Colliery are a Semi-Pro club from the Central Midlands league who were enjoying a productive season and sat in 4th place before the season ground to an abrupt halt.

What have been the biggest challenges?

The main challenge I feel has been being unable to plan ahead with the lack of information and clarity on what can and can’t be done. This isn’t me having a go at the authorities, far from it, they have also been very much in the dark as this has been a learning curve for everyone. We were told early that the season had ended which was the right thing to do, however the close season is about planning for the new season ahead: sorting pre-season out, sorting training dates out, getting works carried out at the club.

None of this has been easy as we simply didn’t know when we could get on with the job in hand. Then when advice came out about training, the challenge was getting things planned safely and correctly for everyone. We wanted our players and coaches back training, but we had to make sure we were doing the right things at the right time which I feel we did. In fact, I have been very proud of how the coaching/physio staff have approached things head on and have all carried out what we expected to the letter.

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Has everyone kept in touch?

​Our gaffer had the idea of having a weekly quiz to keep everyone in contact with each other which has been great. Don’t get me wrong it’s been an awful time for so many but as a club I feel we have all worked to keep in contact and look forward as best we can.

Have there been any financial implications?

There won’t be a club out there that hasn’t been hit hard. We are in a better position than most I would say, with very little outgoings. But the season finishing early meant we missed out on revenue, with three cup finals due to be played at the club. The Easter raffle and our presentation night also had to be scrapped which both fetch excellent revenue in.

We have been lucky enough to secure a Football Foundation pitch improvement programme and also some money from Sport England. We won’t be able to complete what we had planned for the close season but we will get done what we can.

Pre-season is likely to be behind closed doors by the sounds of it, so no revenue coming in but officials will still need to be paid etc. So again, its money going out not in. It will allow the players to get back playing which is obviously the main thing. Spending more money on sanitiser and cleaning materials is also something we wouldn’t have done in the past.

Gaining new sponsors may prove difficult too. With lots of businesses struggling at present, they may no longer have the funds available for sponsorship, but we have some really loyal sponsors and we hope to keep the majority of them.

What shape are the players in after so long away? (answered by club fitness coach, Ben Dixon)

The biggest focus for us was for the players to get a ball at their feet. The first few weeks the drills were related to very basic movements with the ball and getting back their touch. Having to socially distance meant a high element of conditioning was gained also. Throughout the six weeks that we’ve been back we have developed the technical drills to keep the enthusiasm from the lads. They have responded so well to every drill we have set and we’re seeing some great progress.

We asked the lads to keep up on their fitness throughout lockdown using Strava, not just to focus on physical fitness but to keep the mind clear. With no football/team sports around it could have been difficult for some of the players. This helped the players to stay relatively fit and gave us a good platform for when we started in June.

Another benefit of the past six weeks is the physio and I have been able to work on ‘bullet-proofing’ with the players. This essentially is work gym work which aims to prevent injury in the long term. Having six weeks of progressive strength, speed, balance and core exercises has also allowed us to develop a solid base for those players who in the past have had numerous injuries due to imbalances.

Surprisingly, all of the above has been received extremely well and we have been impressed with the effort, motivation and consistency displayed by the players towards the conditioning work. I personally think we will be heading into the season fitter than we ever have.

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How are the preparations for the return of football going?

The big challenge here will be the changing rooms and keeping social distancing in place. We are all new to this which we all have in common and it’s going to be a change in mentality for some. The ground is well equipped for social distancing with hard standing round all sides but we are unsure as to when they fans can return.

The training aspect I believe has been managed excellently by our coaches and as mentioned above, I’ve been very proud of that. We have seen some clubs clearly disobeying the guidelines and that’s up to them. We can only control what we do and I think the players have been thankful and appreciative of this as its been planned and organised perfectly.

Are there any concerns about returning to action?

I think that whilst the virus is still in circulation, which it will be for some time, there will always be concerns. But we have had the nod to play and as long as we follow the guidelines to the letter then I feel players and coaches coming into the club will feel that we are doing all we can. I think that everyone is chomping at the bit to get playing again but they also need to feel confident that the club has a structure in place to allow them to do so within as safe as possible surroundings. We don’t know what the new normal will look like but we soon will. For now, it’s a time to look forward but with caution.

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A big thanks to Jonny and Ben for their time and sending us a few snaps from Harworth’s most recent training session. Keep your eyes peeled for more Grassroots Football In Lockdown over the next week. We’ll be hearing from a Junior football team and a County FA about the challenges of recent months and re-emerging from lockdown.

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