In a season of unprecedented challenges, assistant manager Gav Skelton was thrown a real curve ball when he became the football department’s Covid-19 officer, charged with implementing day-to-day protocols with the safety of the players and staff always at the forefront of the mind.
Manager Chris Beech recently sung his praises when he spoke about the ‘amount of work that was generated by the need to be safe through the pandemic was huge’ going on to say that ‘Gav deserves real credit for taking that on’.
Speaking about the responsibilities of being a club’s Covid-19 officer, Gav said: “Yes, there has been a lot of work generated by it, but it was necessary for us to be able to get our games on.
“Being perfectly honest, I won’t miss it. Hopefully, touch wood, things will be back to some kind of normal because it is very time consuming. I’ll be pleased if the workload from it is reduced, or if it is back to normal, so that we can solely concentrate on the football.
“I have to thank the lads and the staff because they bought into what we needed them to do. Quite a few clubs we went to complimented us on how we were doing things, and Ross Goodwin, our physio, needs a lot of credit because he took on so much of it as the season went on.
“He was very organised and fantastic with it all, showing a great deal of patience. It was frustrating that it came into the building but clubs at every level were hit by it, and we have to remember that’s what happens in a pandemic.
“We’re still in a pandemic, I’m not dismissing it at all, and we have to keep on our toes, but hopefully by the time we start next season things will have lifted a little bit.”
The need for strict training protocols and twice-weekly testing brought with it a different style of challenge, with the timetable affected by the introduction of such checks and balances.
“With the national situation changing so much it made things very different in terms of what you could do and when you could do it,” he explained. “We did have to think about it with everything we did. Obviously the lads had to come in early on testing days to make sure they had time to isolate while they were waiting for their results before we started training and things like that.
“You end up worrying about where they’re going and what they’re doing when they aren’t here, but they were all responsible.
“I think at the start we were almost trying to micro-manage them, but as time went on we got used to it and we were just doing what we needed to do, as was every other club.”
Add to that the fact that there were so many games to play in such a short time, and suddenly there really is a fair bit to think about.
“Funnily enough the last week of the season was the first time we could properly train, because before that it was all about recovery and preparation for the next game, which was always just a few days away,” he told us.
“The lads who weren’t playing needed to be topped up, but they were low in numbers, so they weren’t getting quite what they needed in terms of a full session.
“After a game on Saturday it was straight onto the bus and immediately looking at the Tuesday opponents, but also having the review of the game you’ve just played for lessons learned to complete as well.
“On the Sunday we would start to discuss the team, Monday was into match prep, but that was different to what we would usually do owing to the number of games we were playing. It was a constant cycle which was mostly about recovery and preparation.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been through anything like it before,” he commented. “You obviously play when you get the odd run of games crammed into a short period, but never for such a long spell as that.
“I know the games were called off before that spell, but you were still preparing and doing the work right up until the moment they were postponed and, as we know, some of those decisions came at the last minute, or while we were on our way to places.
“Other teams had the same, so it is what it is, but it was a unique experience and also extremely busy. It’s a year we’ll all look back on at some point in the future and we’ll realise just how strange it was.
“We’re still in it now, so you don’t really think about it too much. Some of the things that come with the virus - disinfecting footballs, training in small groups, disinfecting goals, hand sanitising any time you go near anybody, getting changed in bars in grounds because you can’t use the normal changing rooms - it’s all stuff you would never have dreamed of happening.
“I’m sure we’ll all talk about it, have a few laughs and say, crikey, that was different.”
With most of January written off due to a variety of reasons, we wondered if that had added to the feeling of strangeness that will forever surround this particular season.
“Going through that didn’t help, that’s stating the obvious,” he admitted. “You look at Rotherham, they came back from it and struggled as well, but we have to learn from it.
“There’s no point in feeling sorry for ourselves. We have to use it as a burning frustration and anger that we didn’t achieve what we wanted to achieve, but turn that into energy to make sure we start next season well and put it right.
“What happened was out of our hands. We had that really good run, but it did nosedive a bit. Everybody reflects, so we’ll learn from it. We’ve got to move on from it, not keep reflecting for too long, take the bits we’ve learned into next season and make sure it’s a positive one.”