When talking to United boss Chris Beech about the current situation facing Carlisle United you quickly pick up a sense of perspective, as he and his family deal with a very real situation in an unbelievably matter-of-fact way - with his son a veteran of the need for self-isolation - but more of that later, in interviews to follow on the official website in the coming days.
For now, we caught up with him to discuss the impact the Grimsby call-off and subsequent nationwide tightening of restrictions had made on the football side of the operation, as his squad went from preparing for a game to being stood down completely, and for an unknown period of time.
“I don’t think anybody expected it to happen the way it did,” he said. “It was almost chaotic, to be honest with you, because the whole landscape seemed to change in the football world when Mikel Arteta was tested positive.
“It was really strange with us having gone from the Prime Minister telling everybody almost to carry on as normal on the Thursday evening, to the phone call on Friday morning to say that all football was postponed.
“To be fair to the football bodies, they went with their decision to stand down before many other industries and businesses around the country, even before there were any real guidelines from the government, or from their specialist advisors.
“There were a lot of opinions flying around because of that, on what should or shouldn’t happen, but it moved quickly on from there to a complete lockdown for everybody, and that rightly had to be done to protect the NHS in my opinion.”
Having received the call cancelling the trip to Grimsby just moments before setting off, he admitted that it became a hectic morning as plans were hastily rearranged.
“I don’t mind saying that it became a really difficult few hours,” he told us. “Footballers are footballers, and they react to these things in exactly the same way as other people out there react, particularly if they’ve been geared up to going into work and suddenly they don’t need to do that anymore.
“Not so much our lads, but I do know that a lot of players from other clubs were out over that weekend. Much of that appeared on social media, as it does these days, and we saw from other people around the country from all walks of life that they ended up at beaches, or in country parks having picnics, almost like it was a holiday.
“There was quite a lot of criticism about the way the country reacted that first weekend, but it was quite a confusing time with so many mixed messages and I think we need to bear that in mind.
“We simply had no guidelines from the Government about what the rules were, with a very open-ended message from the football authorities saying that our fixtures were off. The decision on how individual clubs were going to look after their first team squads was left to each club, in terms of training and preparing for a return to playing, and that also created its own difficulties.
“What we got was a whole host of clubs announcing completely different sets of contingency plans and schedules, and who can say which way of doing things at that time was right or wrong? Each club, ourselves included, had their own set of circumstances to deal with.
“If you think about it, we’d beaten Newport on the Tuesday night and we’d actually trained on the Wednesday morning after that. The lads who played warmed down and those who hadn’t been involved had been put through a tough session.
“We split up around midday that day and we had Thursday off, with the plan being to get together on Friday for another good training session, on the way to the team hotel. As we know, the call to cancel the fixture came before any of us had met up - the bus hadn’t even left Carlisle - so we effectively hadn’t seen each other since Wednesday dinner time.
“That meant we’d had Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday without a structured session, and that’s why we took the decision to bring the lads in on Monday morning.
“There were quite a few other teams who did the same, because it wasn’t until that Monday night that the real game changer came for everybody, in terms of the tightening of restrictions on gatherings and movement for everybody up and down the country, as the Government took a more collective approach in doing what needed to be done to attack the spread of this virus.”
Even heading into work that Monday morning, following the postponement of the weekend trip to Blundell Park, the advice being followed by all football clubs was that the return to action would be implemented as quickly as possible, with a date early in April targeted.
“Based on that, I’d actually put together a two-week training plan, because we were due to play Port Vale on 4 April as far as everyone was concerned,” the gaffer revealed. “To us that meant the season was ongoing, so we couldn’t leave it longer than the five days we’d already had without getting together to train.
“It was a good training session, but the players were stressed, there’s no two ways about that. They each had their own opinions and individual concerns, and I was also really concerned because the countrywide situation only seemed to be getting more and more serious as each hour went by.
“It was becoming more of a test to find a way of balancing a return to football, which was on the schedule at that point, against the really important matter of the safety of my players and staff.
“Like I say, that was a really hard two or three days from a manager’s point of view because there were a lot of little things to deal with, and each different thing was massively important to the person or people it affected.
“The lack of detailed guidance from the league meant it was quite a strange position for both the club and myself to be placed in, if I’m going to be completely honest. That’s why I think the way David [Holdsworth], Nigel [Clibbens] and myself dealt with it, by staying in touch constantly, made it easier for all of us.”
Speaking more about the plan he’d outlined during that first weekend, he explained: “The players were going to be in on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday for the next two-week period, so that was eight days out of 14 where we’d have been training.
“From there we’d get back in full-time ahead of the Port Vale game. For those eight sessions we’d train hard, but it’s very difficult to train full-tilt when there isn’t a game at the end of it, particularly during the season, so I was looking for levels of around 80% effort.
“I had a good conversation with the lads on that Monday morning, and they were more comfortable about things, but it all changed for us again at around 5.36pm that night when Boris stood up and announced the next phase of what they’d decided to do to step things up in the fight against Coronavirus.
“Very quickly after that we took the decision as a club to cease training – that was something we decided independently, before we’d had guidance from the EFL, because we felt it was the correct thing to do. Of course, that guidance followed suit anyway and, quite rightly in my opinion, it’s been extended indefinitely and at least until the picture is much, much clearer.”
“It was a tough, strange few days, it really was,” he added. “The mindset had been for us to go to Grimsby, to continue the good work we’d done against Newport on the Tuesday night, and to build on the good form we’d seen and produced.
“Football wise we’d got better at not getting beat, and we were winning games, even though we weren’t winning as much as I’d like us to be, as everyone knows. The plan at Grimsby was to make it three wins from four against a very good side who had just installed a very good new manager.
“Standing down at that point was hard to do, because your working life in football is geared towards those moments. That’s the same for any person, if you’re prepared to do something at work, and it gets cancelled, your whole mentality changes and you hit a natural lull.
“That’s probably why so many people treated that first weekend as if it was a bank holiday. It’s like a pressure relief. Now, of course, the seriousness of what we’re facing has sunk in and hopefully these drastic measures that we’re all having to live with will mean that we can get through this sooner rather than later.”
We’ll have more from the manager on how the football department is dealing with the current situation on the official website in the coming days.