When you think of grassroots football in lockdown you probably think of the impact on Sunday league, junior football or 5-a-side leagues. We’ve already spoken to people from a semi-pro team, a disability football club and a junior team. But what about the people who work hard to stitch everything together?

 

Up and down the country our County FAs work hard to deliver the beautiful game in the best way possible to as many people as possible. That was until the pandemic struck of course…

 

But even a pandemic wasn’t enough to stop Surrey FA engaging with their football community. We spoke about this, the challenges that their organisation faced through lockdown and plans for the return of football with Head of Marketing & Communications, James Chadwick.

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How has lockdown been down at Surrey FA?

It’s been a difficult time for us. Clearly, no football means many of our typical core functions going out the window. The majority of our workforce have been on furlough leave for a number of months now and it has been a challenge to keep everyone connected. On a personal level, working from home was strange at first but I’ve adapted to it and it’s forced the organisation to make better use of technology – which is a great thing in my book.

We have had weekly team meetings, including the staff on furlough so that we can keep them up to date with everything we have been doing in their absence. We also have daily Senior Management Team meetings so we can share any wellbeing issues and discuss our approach in a climate which is changing every day. Myself and our Marketing Assistant check in with each other for a quick call to talk about the previous night’s football (or before football was back, Tiger King!) and what we are working on that day. That’s been a great way for us to keep some normality throughout.

How have you kept people engaged with Surrey FA during lockdown?

Where we’ve been unable to get out and about meeting clubs, hosting events or cup matches, we’ve had to use the digital space more effectively. Where we might have held coaching CPD sessions or hosted professional officials at our refereeing events, we have instead tried to fill the gap with content. We’ve hosted a real variety of sessions which has included webinars with former England manager Peter Taylor, ex-Manchester United goalkeeping coach Eric Steele and the Crystal Palace FC Chief Sports Scientist Scott Guyett. We’ve also interviewed female coaches working in professional and grassroots football, and referees at both levels too. Social media has been really important for sharing these pieces, but also for delivering key information around FA and Government guidance.

 

Where we’ve had good news stories, we have done our best to draw attention to them. In these testing times, those stories have been really important. I’ve talked about what we have done – but some of our clubs have been amazing during this period. Youth teams have run weekly quizzes for players, some have recorded trickshot videos and other clubs have set-up food banks. We have an incredible football community in Surrey, and the pandemic has really brought them all together like never before.

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What have been the main challenges?

With a team of 25 reduced through furlough, we’ve had to try to carry out the functions of a team across just a few of us. That in itself has been a challenge, but it’s given me a chance to learn more about other areas of the organisation and forced us to be innovative.

 

The communications function of my role has really grown since lockdown and this has been a a real challenge at times. We have a duty to make sure everyone involved in the sport in Surrey is aware of the latest guidance, and it’s so important in keeping people safe. I think it’s only then when I truly realised just how much responsibility I have – when you’re working from your living room it can be easy to forget that there’s 60,000 players waiting on your word!

 

In normal times, our office is a hotbed of brilliant creative ideas from all my colleagues, which makes my job a lot easier. Clearly, not seeing them every day and feeding in marketing ideas around the areas of the game which they are both knowledgeable and passion about has been difficult. However, some of them have still been communicating with me via WhatsApp with ideas and suggestions, and that’s been a real help.

 

Moving forward, we have to brace for a possible stop-start situation. We really hope that won’t be the case, but it’s something which we need to be conscious of.

How has the County FA supported Surrey's football community?

If there’s one positive we have taken from this period, it has been the way in which we’ve been able to strengthen relationships with our clubs.

 

Initially, we ran drop-in sessions for clubs to share their challenges with us. It was a completely open forum and clearly there were some things discussed which were out of our control. Those on the calls really appreciated the Senior Management Team taking the time to speak to them directly, and it’s definitely something we will look to continue.

 

There have been a number of grants and funding opportunities throughout the pandemic which we have pushed out to our clubs including the Sport England Community Emergency Relief Fund and the Football Foundation’s Pitch Preparation Fund. In total, clubs in Surrey received £750,000 of funding.

 

We also took the decision in June to offer free club affiliations and County Cup entry for the 2020/21 season.

How are preparations going for the return of football?

Football is coming back, but I think it is going to look very different for a while. We have asked clubs to keep safety at the forefront of any decisions they make as we are not home and dry yet.

 

The Football Foundation’s Club Preparation Fund will go a long way towards allowing clubs to make their facilities Covid-19 safe, providing financial support to implement changes. We expect to see a lot of new signage around clubs and plenty of hand sanitiser! Some of the behaviour on the pitch will need to adapt too.

 

We have also run a brand-new Football Fix-Up project, encouraging clubs to bring their community together to give their facilities some TLC. It’s had a brilliant response, with working parties as big as 30-people strong tackling tasks from re-painting dressing rooms and repairing potholes in the club car park to removing bushes and weeds and giving internal spaces a deep clean. Those involved will be well set once their seasons start.

If that’s not enough to convince you that County FAs are about more than just collecting fines and arranging refs then nothing will! It’s clear to see that with the dedication and innovation displayed by the County FA over these challenging months, football in Surrey is in safe hands.

If you’ve enjoyed our Grassroots Football in Lockdown series, taking in perspectives on the pandemic from the beautiful game, then be sure to give us a follow on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. We post regular grassroots sport content, plus loads of pictures of nice football kits. What’s not to love?

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