League Two clubs voted to curtail the 19/20 season on Friday, subject to ratification this week from the FA and EFL, and United boss Chris Beech spoke about the decision today as the football world waits for further clarification on what happens next, with more talks scheduled for the coming days.
“Obviously having clarity with where we’re at with last season is a step forward,” he said. “It certainly fits with what’s happening currently, with everybody looking for a robust and safe environment within which we can start the process of returning to as close to normal as possible across the whole of society.
“We’re duty bound as a football club to provide that safe environment, but there are all kinds of requirements within that which would have provided a real challenge for us at this moment in time, should the decision have been made to finish the remaining games off.
“That included testing the players, and the obvious financial implications that brings, along with scheduling training sessions so that the lads were split up and socially distanced as they went through the drills we had planned for them.
“And would every player put himself in the position where he wanted to go through all of that in the first place?”
“We received the Return To Training Protocol last week from the EFL, which is very detailed in the guidance it gives, and I’m sure that some of it will still be in place as we start to pick things up for the 2020/21 season, whenever that might be,” he continued.
“That’s still something of a side issue at the moment because we don’t know how the other divisions are going to do things, and there are still play-off, relegation and promotion issues to be decided here in League Two.
“There are meetings taking place all the time which are geared towards resolving these issues, and it seems that every time I do an interview some part of it immediately becomes defunct because of another outcome that is either revealed or decided upon.
“There’s just so much going on behind the scenes, and that makes things interesting for all of us, but it’s also making it difficult at the same time. All you can do is keep an open mind and make sure you protect yourself as a business by putting whatever plans you can in place. By doing that you’re as ready as you can be once the way forward is set in stone.
“Whenever we talk about the issues we’re having at the club we have to remember that in amongst all of this is the fact that, as a country, we’re dealing with a virus that doesn’t yet have a vaccine.
“That’s why there’s been so much uncertainty and probably why it’s taken so long for everybody to come to some kind of consensus. While some would have wanted the season to end for a while now, and others would have wanted the games to be played for their own reasons, hanging over everybody has been the uncertainty of the virus and how we’re all going to deal with it safely, so that our staff are looked after as well.
“Steps forward can’t be at the expense of safety, so I’m sure there’s been a lot of opinion from every club as to what they feel is the right and wrong way to do things. We have our decision now, and the next phase will be to resolve the top and bottom of the table issues we mentioned, and then we can start to think about what next season will look like.”
With the released and retained list having been publicised on the same day, we wondered if United’s boss was now in a position to push on with more of the planning for next season, despite still not having a confirmed start date.
“We’d been working on the list before we knew the decision to curtail the season was being made, and that was because we felt we’d reached the point at which that needed to be done,” he explained.
“The lads had been extremely patient and were doing everything we asked of them, but we felt they deserved to know what our thoughts were.
“So many of them have careers to think about, as well as families and mortgages, and things like that, and we didn’t want the uncertainty around their own situations to drag on. We wanted to protect them by making things clearer for them and to give them better guidance on what the immediate future was like for them as individuals.
“None of us are yet at a point where we can start to negotiate or go through a normal recruitment process, but at least by confirming that list we now have players who know where they stand and who will be able to start to plan their next step.”
And on the subject of next steps, is the manager now in a position to start to lay the plans for some kind of pre-season programme?
“Not knowing when we’re coming back means that we still have to wait before we start to finalise any pre-season plans,” he confirmed. “For the lads, I think if you’ve been a regular first-team player then this is the time to let your body relax.
“A lot of football was played before it all ground to a halt on the weekend of the Grimsby game and, whenever we start up again, there’ll be a lot more football to play. This is a great opportunity for the senior players to slow down a bit and recover.
“The younger players should be using every day now as an opportunity to develop or improve something within themselves, or their game, because next season is important for all of them. Every bit of work they can do now will make them more ready for when we do get back together again.
“I’ve been really impressed with the young lads and some of the creative ideas they’ve come up with as they’ve worked on skill-sets and physicality, and Jamie Armstrong has been outstanding in some of the training he’s been doing.
“They’re all now competing with each other to come up with new ways of doing their work and it’s now a case of them keeping it going as much as they can.”
Having given all of the players a lockdown fitness programme, he spoke again about how pleased he’d been with the way the squad had applied itself through what had been a set of unprecedented circumstances.
“It hasn’t been difficult with this group at all because the players had been furloughed and had gone home a number of weeks ago anyway,” he said. “That minimised contact, within the rules and guidelines, but at the same time they had work set by us which was designed to give them the best foundation possible for when or if the opportunity to return to full training presented itself.
“You have to remember that these lads are all professionals and they’ve all been following the programme we sent them and they’ve been doing additional individual sessions as well, because this is their job and being as fit as possible is part of that.
“We’ve been able to monitor their progress, which has been beneficial for us all. Some of them will have found different things more difficult than others, that’s just normal, and that’s where we’ve been able to step in, help and encourage.
“Team spirit has been excellent and they’ve kept in contact with each other away from the work-based stuff, with regular online meetings which have actually been really enjoyable. For example, they all got together when the computerised Grand National was on, which everyone enjoyed, so we’ve been quite creative that way.
“It’s a shame for all of us that we weren’t able to end the season with the fans, but that’s how it is, everyone understands why it’s this way, and the task for all of us is to now focus forward.”
We’ll have more from the manager on the official website later today.