Important for any manager, particularly through a uniquely challenging season like the one we’ve just had, is the support he receives from his immediate staff, and from his players.
Manager Chris Beech spoke about the importance of the backing he’d had from what has visibly become a tight-knit group.
“They’ve all been fantastic,” he told us. “We had a big turnover of players last year, through the summer period, but it was the same in the coaching staff.
“We had a new physio, goalkeeper coach and strength and conditioning coach. We also had Jacob who joined as our analyst earlier on, and he was part of me wanting to do things slightly differently.
“In the past I think Carlisle have had a manager, assistant and a coach, so we’re one down in that sense, but we can utilise Jacob in terms of looking at opponents and recruitment strategies. His role in the modern day is vital in terms of feedback to players and preparing for games.
“I’d like to thank every staff member in my bubble who helps me on a day-to-day basis. I can’t give a bigger thank you to Gav Skelton who has had to deal with translating masses of emails about Covid, and what we can and can’t do when it comes to how we work operationally.
“He’s had to make sure we didn’t break any protocols, but also be able to continue to do our jobs, which hasn’t been easy. At a bigger club they’ve probably got somebody employed who’s job is to be their Covid officer, but Gav has had to do it alongside his usual role.
“I remember when we played Aston Villa under-21s in the cup, they turned up in two massive first team coaches so they could social distance. They’d been for an afternoon sleep in the Crown at Wetheral and they had more staff than we did.
“Bearing in mind their players’ squad numbers were all probably 60 plus, that’s how far away from the first team they were, but that’s the resources they have.”
“The players have also had a lot to deal with,” he continued. “I’m obviously disappointed we couldn’t gain something to celebrate as a group because I feel like we deserve it with the effort they’ve put in.
“We’ll finish 10th now, we can’t change that, but we can try and gain another three points and look after the home record. They deserve a well done but it’s obviously tinged with disappointment because of how we’ve gone about the season.”
Elaborating more on that, he said: “I’ve got to step back and look at what hit our team and the circumstances we were put under. I think they’ll be better going forward at dealing with catch-up and anxiety, because it definitely did come into the team.
“When you’re in a rush to regain something that has been taken off you, mistakes then become a bigger issue, especially when you can’t get into any rhythm of what you’re doing.
“In our last 12 games, with one still to play, I’ve seen a growth in dealing with discrepancies and setbacks. We’ve also got back up to speed in terms of the physical stats and played more football.
“There have been games where I’ve been disappointed in how we’ve played in terms of style, but I’ve also been excited by some of the things we’ve done as well. We’ve definitely become better at dealing with and responding to slaps in the face within games, because that’s the only time you can affect it. After that you can only talk about it, you can’t change a result afterwards. The players will have learned a lot in that period.”
Most definitely unprecedented was a run of 11 weeks of constant Saturday-Tuesday fixtures, a gruelling and testing schedule by any standard.
“That was tough and, yes, it is another factor we should recognise and think about,” he said. “This week, with us not having a Tuesday game, I’m sitting here now feeling like we’ve had such a big break that I’m ready for pre-season!
“We’ve basically played half a season in that 11-week spell, which is pretty ridiculous when you think about it. It’s easy to say that it’s what we all get paid for and we should get on with it, but it has been hard mentally as well as physically.
“I can play the odd round of golf and really look forward to it, but if I start playing every other day it can become difficult because the feeling of being excited about it isn’t there as much. When you’re travelling and playing, then trying to overcome little injuries, make sure you recover right, eat right and sleep right, it is very tough.
“I’m proud of the way we went about that and that we made sure we became harder to beat, but I do want us to win more games and be more successful, irrelevant of everything or anything that is thrown at us.
“The players need commended for the efforts they’ve put into that, and I hope they reflect those efforts in the game against Walsall.”
And once the Saturday fixture is completed, all eyes will turn to 21/22 and, hopefully, a much more ‘normal’ season of football.
“We’ve got the majority of pre-season training and the friendlies sorted,” he confirmed. “We’ve got some good friendlies, hopefully a couple at home, but we’re just waiting for confirmation on all of that before we announce.
“We’ll hopefully be able to share the home games with the supporters, depending on the pitch work that is going on and the situation with the virus. I’m hopeful of having what I would consider a normal pre-season.
“Last year we were only allowed to train in groups of five to start with, we weren’t allowed to shower here and nobody was allowed to stay in the club houses. Logistically that throws up massive problems because we need quality training sessions. Hopefully those barriers won’t be there and we can just crack on.”
And, it goes without saying, fingers are crossed that the ‘cracking on’ will include having supporters with us, wherever we play.
“It was great to share a little bit of the journey with our fans during the first half of the season,” he said. “Football is all about sharing. I’ve missed the supporters and I know the players have.
“We’ve also had a lot of players doing a lot of things for the first time this season that their own parents haven’t been able to see. Jack Armer’s mum and dad didn’t see him make his debut or score his first goal, and there are a lot of players where that has been the case this year.
“Hopefully next year will be a new start for everybody. I never take anything for granted, but to share what we do with other people is what football is all about. I’m really looking forward to being able to do that and to having our supporters back in the stadium, and I’m sure Nigel is the same from a financial perspective.
“I keep repeating myself but I’m just looking forward to some normality. We’re all disappointed we haven’t been able to do something this season, but I’m pleased we’ve been able to excite our supporters and given them a bit of a buzz back in how they feel about the club, and how the players represent the club.
“There’s been more action and less drama, and I’m pleased with how the players have connected with the community this season. That will only grow when our supporters can be back with us, which is what we’re all looking forward to.”