10:35AM, Thursday 23 July 2020
Alan Devonshire expects Maidenhead United will return for pre-season training from early next month, with the government having approved the FA’s plans for the resumption of competitive, grassroots football on Friday evening.
Clubs and teams across the country are now able to hold training sessions for groups of no more than 30 people, including coaches, while matches will be permitted from August 1.
National League sides have been told to prepare for the new season kicking off in September, but, with FA proposals for the return of paying spectators still awaiting approval from government, there remains an element of doubt over if and when league matches will resume.
Most clubs at Maidenhead United and Slough Town’s level have said they’ll struggle financially to stage matches without spectators.
The FA last week announced their intention for leagues in the men’s National League system and Women’s Football Pyramid tiers 3-6 to get underway in September.
As it stands Devonshire will bring his Magpies squad back in for pre-season from August 3, with a friendly match pencilled in against Bristol Rovers on August 8.
Whether that match goes ahead as planned remains to be seen, but Devonshire acknowledges there’ll be changes to training if the club is to comply with government and FA advice on COVID-19.
He said: “If we’re looking at the season starting in September, then we’ll probably go back on August 3.
“But if the season is pushed back to October then we’ll start a little bit later. I want to know that when we’re going back, we’re going back. I don’t want to be in a situation where we go back in for a few days and after a few weeks the season is pushed back or is called off again. I’d rather go back in when we know we’re going to start.”
The advice from the FA is for players to self-assess for COVID-19 symptoms before attending training sessions and matches, while a full risk assessment must be carried out by clubs to ensure players can train and play safety.
A number of measures will need to be implemented and clubs have been told to appoint a 'COVID-19 officer' to ensure their facilities are as safe as they possibly can be.
At training players should refrain from touching the footballs and sanitise their hands before and after sessions. One coach should be responsible for handling and laying out equipment. When matches resume players have been told to avoid group goal celebrations and they're also encouraged to come changed for matches and to shower at home, less practical for players and teams further up the non-league pyramid. A record of all those attending training should also be taken so individuals can be traced in the event of someone catching COVID-19.
“We’d like to get the fans back in but it has to be as safe as possible,” said Devonshire. “I think they’re talking about doing 25 per cent capacity to begin with and no away fans. That’s how I’d imagine they’d start off the season. But until this COVID-19 clears there’s no point in starting really. We’ve got to be careful because it hasn’t gone away yet. You’ve only got to have one person get it and then we’d all have to quarantine for two weeks. So it’s still not clear to go out and mix until we’ve had tests and at our level can we afford to have tests, probably not.
“We’ll probably have to adapt the training over the four or five weeks leading to the season, but there only needs to be a spike in the virus and it’ll all get pushed back again. But, as long as we have four or five weeks training and a few games we should be fine.
“I know we’ve got a friendly pencilled in against Bristol Rovers on August 8, but we don’t know yet if we’ll be able to do it.”
The Magpies are once again in the midst of a summer rebuild, following the departure of eight players from last season’s squad. One of those, Danny Whitehall, was snapped up by Scottish Premiership side Kilmarnock this week, but the process of replenishing the squad has already begun. Midfielder Josh Coley and striker Danilo Orsi-Dadomo were signed last week and Devonshire expects more to follow them through the door at York Road in the coming week.
“There will be some (new players) next week,” he added.
“Josh and Danilo are good young prospects.
“We’re pleased with them and hopefully after this weekend there’ll be some more good news. It’s just a platform for them now. Can they adapt to the National League. Danilo has scored goals in the National League South and I think he’ll automatically score goals for us. Josh has got to adapt to men’s football.
“To be fair to the kid he went to Dunfermline on loan and did ever so well so it’s a case of giving him an opportunity.”
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