Lockdown posed big challenges to most, not least to parents. The headache of keeping kids busy and not on Fortnite and TikTok 24/7 was all too real. No school, no playing out and no sport was also tough on kids themselves.

Alternative forms of exercise and socialising were found but only filled the void to a small extent. We all know that there’s truly nothing like grassroots football. So the parents of the talented lads at Kitlocker Juniors FC will have been among thousands breathing a sigh of relief when football was given the green light a few weeks ago.

The team formed in the summer of 2018 and have gone from strength to strength in their short time in the Sheffield & District Junior Sunday League. We spoke to Chairman Rob Wilson about the challenges faced when football ground to a halt, as well as adapting to the “new normal.”

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How was lockdown for Kitlocker Juniors?

It was tough to begin with. We were doing well in the league and in 2nd place as the season was shut down. We had a few games left and were hoping for promotion. Lockdown threw that up in the air a little but the league agreed on a PPG approach to final standings and we were officially promoted in 3rd place on games played. Everyone settled after that and focus then turned to when we might get back to training and hopefully next season.

How did you keep the boys engaged?

The boys were all in touch with each other on their WhatsApp group but it was obvious they missed playing and were becoming stir crazy. The coaches in particular began discussing the mental health of the boys and decided that we should start getting together on Zoom.

We set that up and Tom hosted a Kitlocker Juniors quiz night for about 6 weeks every Thursday. It was great to get them all together. The quiz lasted around an hour and then most of them jumped into a big game of Fortnite. The laughter that came from my front room told me they needed it! (there are pictures on our Insta account if you want them – they even wore their kit).

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What was the biggest challenge?

Probably the unknown. The unknown about a return to training, the unknown about whether or when the season might start, the unknown about where we would play (our ground is closed) and the unknown about how we would get our new team off the ground. We’d decided to launch a second team at u13s so needed to get some players together.

Have there been any financial implications?

When lockdown came along we suggested to our parents to stop their subscriptions. We’d been careful last season so have enough to pay next years affiliation fees, insurance and so on. Several kept paying which has really helped.

We’re conscious that we need to buy new kit for next season so the extra subs have really made that possible. Our running costs are based on our subs model so with lockdown stopping the outgoings it was ok.

How are preparations for the new season going?

Really well. We’ve been so lucky to have had the support of a couple of other grassroots clubs who have let us train on their site. First Woodhouse Juniors and more recently Tinsley Juniors. Both giving us the large, private space we’ve needed to get training back on track.

We’ve poured over the FA guidance and provided everyone with a socially distanced training offer, supplemented with hand sanitiser and strict protocols at training. The downside was that the first few weeks were purely fitness based – not the most popular approach after 12 weeks off!!

Now we can have some contact we are approaching things progressively. 1 on 1 duels at first and hopefully some small games later this month. We’re taking things slowly and progressively so that our protocols are followed and the boys understand their responsibilities.

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Are there any concerns about returning to action?

We have a diverse team and some of the players are in a group that is said to be more vulnerable. We’re being careful and allowing the boys to make their own decisions about how to train. That’s important to us. We want a progressive and safe environment for everyone. It’s what our club is built on and being responsible will help us all move forward.

The club have been on an upward trajectory pretty much since formation, so we’re sure that Kitlocker Juniors will continue their terrific work on and off the pitch when the new season resumes. And it goes without saying that we are incredibly proud to have our name associated with such a forward thinking club. To keep an eye on how the lads are getting on, they are well worth a follow on twitter @KitlockerJFC

Let’s hope the lads can get back to scenes like these some time soon ⬇⬇⬇

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