With a review from the government of the current lockdown situation imminent, we caught up with the club’s director of football David Holdsworth for an update on the football side of the business.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE: Football has never faced anything like this current situation before14 April 2020
Speaking first about the lockdown, he said: “I’m in the same position as everybody else in that I’m staying in unless it’s absolutely necessary to go out.
“There is a lot of work still to do, as I’m sure you can imagine, but I don’t mind repeating the message that the important thing here is to protect the NHS and key workers, and that’s why we’re all doing what has to be done at the moment.
“My family are really important to me and I haven’t seen them for just over three weeks now, because they’re in a different part of the country to me, but there are a lot of people going through the same thing.
“That isn’t easy, obviously I miss them, but technology is a great thing and my children have had me doing all sorts of different apps and things like that so that we can keep in touch as much as we can.”
“It is hard, but we won’t be going against the guidelines that are in place because they’re there for a reason,” he added. “With the club, we’re all in contact with each other on a daily basis, discussing the issues we face and planning for each and every eventuality, and we’re also keeping our spirits up with daft challenges and messages, which I think is great.
“I bet that’s happening with so many staff from other businesses around the city and the country as well.
“We continue to keep the fans updated as much as we can, but we depend as much as everybody else on information coming from the authorities for that, because we don’t want to be saying things just for the sake of saying them.
“The players have been on social media with challenges we’re giving them, which seems to generate some interest, and we’ve aimed that a lot at the younger players to try to give them something to do other than just sit in front of FIFA or whatever all day.”
“We’ve said this before but the most important thing we did right at the start of this was that we read the situation and we reacted quickly,” he told us. “Along with Chris Beech and Dave Waldie a training plan was put in place straight away, which the players are adhering to, and we’re planning every day for what might be, or what could happen.
“I also think that’s important, because we’ve got be ready as soon as we’re told it’s safe to start things up again.
“Even just saying all of that, the thing that keeps coming into my mind is that there’s a lot of sadness out there. The figures telling us how many have passed away because of this are staggering, but behind those figures are real families and their loved ones.
“That’s what is important right now, not when we’ll be kicking footballs again. The NHS and key workers are the people we need to focus on. Listen, it’ll be fantastic when we are back at Brunton Park, but that’ll be because it will mean that we’re through this, and that’s what we want more than anything else at this moment in time.”
Speaking about the concern shown from the fans towards the situation at the club, he told us: “It really does hammer home how much people need their local football clubs. With all of the bad things going on, we still get contacted daily with fans asking if we’re all ok. That’s just so humbling and breath taking.
“Nigel [Clibbens] is doing a fantastic job with updating everybody on that, pretty much two or three times a week, and I think we all appreciate that level of detail. It’s a challenging situation for the EFL and sometimes there simply isn’t too much we can say.
“We monitor it, and Nigel is giving the fans every bit of information he can, as and when he gets it. The driving force behind that for all of us is that we know we have a responsibility to look after our club, so we want to make it as clear as possible as to where we are as we go through this situation together.
“We are a community club, we’ve shown that in the way we’ve acted over these last few weeks, and we’re very proud of the fact that so many people care about us, because the feeling is mutual.
“Seeing the way we’re all pulling together, be that through helping those who are vulnerable or simply by clapping for the key workers on a Thursday night is fantastic, and I hope that’s something we can all build on, not just within football but as a society.
“Real sacrifices are being made by people from all walks of life to make this better and that’s not something I feel we should forget in a hurry. When you see that it does give you real hope that we will eventually come through this, as sad as it is for us all as we speak right now.”
Explaining more about the club approach to the current situation, he said: “We’ve planned for the worst-case scenarios of what we could face from the very first conversations we had, however many weeks ago that was now.
“It does seem an unbelievably long time ago since we played our last game, but that’s just how it has to be. As I said before, communication has been key, and we’ve been extremely good at that at all levels of the club.
“The knock-on from that is that we’ll be ready for whatever the next step is, whenever that may be. I have to say there’s a great spirit from everyone inside the club even though it is a period of real uncertainty.
“The staff group is vibrant, and I think it’s important to let the fans know that the media officer has the worst jokes in the world, but he keeps firing them into the group anyway. Others send in challenges and riddles and puzzles, and it’s an unusual but effective way of bonding and working together, which is great to see.”
An obvious question to ask, with the EFL clear that their priority is on completing the 2019/20 season on the field of play, is how difficult it is for the staff and players to keep their focus on that with so many contractual and personal issues currently unresolved?
“The players have a training programme, which is monitored, so that’s helping them a lot,” he said. “The younger lads have the challenges we spoke about on top of that, because we also have to bear in mind the psychological impact this kind of lockdown can have on people.
“Our staff are there to talk whenever anybody has a concern, and right from the top we have a chairman in Andrew Jenkins who is asking every day about how things are and making sure that we’re looking out for each other. He’s a brilliant man and he wants to make sure that we’re always one step ahead, if we can be.
“I know that Chris, Gav, Steve, Dave and Jacob are working all the time on how they’ll pick things up again because we want to be as prepared as we can be once we do get back to playing the game. As things remain uncertain, we have to brush that aside and make sure we have a ‘we will be ready’ style of approach.
“We’re treading water at the moment, of course we are, but it’s how ready and prepared we are within that which will determine how the football side of things goes once we start up again.”
We'll have more from David Holdsworth on the official website on Thursday morning.