08:00AM, Saturday 01 August 2020
Slough Town boss Neil Baker has said there must be at least an element of doubt over whether the National League season will kick off as scheduled on Saturday, October 3.
With a second wave of coronavirus possibly waiting in the wings, and the government yet to approve the FA’s plans for the return of fans to matches, Baker says there are more than a few issues which must be resolved before league matches can resume.
The biggest of these, or the 'key driver', is the return of paying spectators, with most non league clubs reluctant to kick off the new campaign without the government making some form of concession on this.
It seems likely that some fans will be allowed back into grounds, although capacities are set to be significantly reduced, and clubs are in the process of working out how many fans they can accommodate safely.
With all this in mind Baker believes there is enough uncertainty to at least make the government and FA think twice about allowing what are effectively 'mass gatherings' to resume.
The Rebels are set to return with an FA Cup second qualifying round tie on October 3, before kicking off their league season the following week.
It's been nearly two weeks since the Rebels hopes of promotion to the National League were dashed in a play-off defeat to Dartford, a result which took a little while to filter through Baker's system.
However, he and co-boss Jon Underwood are now focused on the new season and have moved quickly to arrange six friendly fixtures. They're also well into the process of reshaping the squad ahead of the new season.
“October 3 is a hopeful date,” said Baker.
“It’s already been pushed back a month already because they were initially talking about a September start.
“And we still don’t know what the situation is going to be with regards to crowds coming back in, and that’s the key driver.
“Clubs are having to individually work out what they feel they might be able to house safely, but it is going to be a vastly reduced capacity. At the end of the day it will come down to the government.
“The government have still got to turn around and say that they’re happy for what is effectively a mass gathering. I still think there’s a few things that have to happen before football can come back really.
“There already has to be an element of doubt over that start date because you’re talking about putting restrictions in place for international travel and Quarantining people when they return. For that to be happening there must be some concern about there being a second wave at some stage, and what effect is that going to have on football? Will it effect their (the government’s) thinking about crowds coming into grounds? I hope it doesn’t, but we can’t just expect it’s going to go ahead as planned.”
Baker has assured fans that plenty will be going on behind the scenes in the coming weeks to prepare the club for the new season, even if it appears pretty quiet to the outside world.
Alongside the issue of returning spectators, Baker added that there are many other issues that need to be ironed out before football can vaguely get back to normal.
“We’re only two months away from the start of the season and one month away in the case of step five clubs,” he said. “These issues need to be ironed out. Nobody has really talked about the changing room issue. We had to use a club room against Dartford and we didn’t have any showers.
“I still think there’s some stuff to come, but at least it’s positive the league has given us an anticipated start date and we can now plan for that.
“Pre-season is going to be unlike any other. It will all be behind closed doors. And we probably won’t announce a lot of it, because we don’t want people trying to watch us. Not announcing those matches in the media probably makes sense.
“There also won’t be loads of information for the fans as to how we’re doing, we probably won’t mention the result or things like that.
“It’s our choice really and it might change depending on how things develop. It may well be a quiet period for the club from that point of view but there will be a lot going on behind the scenes.
“We’ve sorted out our pre-season campaign already. It’s reasonably difficult because you’ve got clubs at steps five to three all starting in September, so after September 12 you’ve only really got National League sides you can play. Fortunately we’ve managed to get those fixtures sorted.
“Hopefully, subject to international travel, I’ll get away for a holiday at the end of next week. It’s difficult.
“The players need to have a holiday as well and I’m sure they’ll be away at various times in August and September, but, more so than ever, I think we have to be flexible as managers because there’s so much uncertainty. We’ll just have to adjust.”
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