The new amateur football season is upon us, with the 2020/21 season in the Lancashire & Cheshire AFL set to begin on 19 September.
Optimism abounds, teams old and new ready to renew and begin rivalries across eight competitive divisions. New players, new tactics, new protocols and procedures, club committees and players allowing themselves to think of the possibilities of glory.
The smell of freshly-cut grass, the thud of a ball, the rattle of the goalpost, the ripple of the net, the ecstasy of a decisive strike, penalty save, goal-saving challenge, the agony of a mistake costing a goal, a missed gilt-edged chance, just or unjust dismissal and suspension.
All these emotions are taken for granted and, that we are in a position to experience – or suffer – them all again, is a testament to the herculean effort from the league and club organisers to ensure competitive football can take place.
Under normal circumstances, it takes a great deal of planning to get everything in place for the start of the season; but these are anything but normal circumstances. No precedent was in place to deal with the effects of a global pandemic, no amount of crisis management experience can begin to prepare for the challenges we the football community collectively have faced.
Yet here we are, on the eve of a new season, with football ready to be played. For the players, managers and clubs to be able to experience the highs and lows of the game, it has required an extensive amount of work to put everything in place. This work started the Monday after football was suspended way back in March, and continues now. The new experience of dealing with an unfinished season, holding general meetings online, writing risk assessments relative to the return of football, ensuring Covid-secure procedures in relation to contact, distancing and hygiene are ready, grounds without changing, but toilets available are all over and above the already onerous task list for the normal close season.
This year, with 20 potential clubs to be interviewed remotely, and 11 accepted, has been an ongoing task until well into August, due the enforced lateness of every aspect of preparation work.
Brian Davies, league secretary said “My busiest period of the year is normally the summer, and the work needs keeping on top of all the time. The extra work generated by making changes to the normal procedures due to Covid-19 has been phenomenal. There have been several key people on the league committee, and every club has its own heroes, who have worked very hard to be in a position to restart. Now we are finally there on the brink of the 112th L&C season, it is down to the efforts of all the unsung volunteers.”
In what has been a real boost to all existing clubs in the league, their fees have been waived for the forthcoming season, carried over from 2019/20, which is of real benefit.
The league committee and other officials had to juggle the extra challenges posed by Covid with the usual responsibilities, while ensuring everything was conducted in a safe way.
As usual, the L&C enjoyed lots of interest for the season. It has resulted in a number of clubs joining, and others adding extra teams. What was a seven-league, 82-team competition has become an eight-league, 94-team contest for the forthcoming season.
This process, understandably, takes time. Brian explained: “We go through a process of getting applications in, doing various background checks on the clubs and the people involved, interview them if we want to take it forward at that point, and then the results of the interview decide if we want to recommend them to members for them to vote the clubs in. It takes a lot of time up.”
Covid also meant delays to the structure of the league. This is because of “lack of clarity” regarding the number of teams for each club, as well as who would be playing and whether pitches were available.
A process that usually takes six weeks had to be compressed into a week, but thanks to the hard work of the fixtures secretary, Malc Kershaw, clubs were informed of league structure on 23rd August and fixtures by 10th September. This included a one week delay due to the FA systems being overloaded – every club and league official trying to complete their preparation work.
Making sure all clubs and facilities are Covid-ready has been a significant undertaking. This has involved Keith Marsden making sure all clubs appointed a Covid-19 Officer.
In terms of facilities, Brian added: “We had to gather far more information than normal on facility availability. With changing rooms being closed, we had to ensure toilets were available, this was collated by Graham Ellis. This process continues and will do so well into October.”
The diligence and organisation of the committee in the most trying of circumstances means the beautiful game is ready to resume in the L&C.