08:00AM, Saturday 16 May 2020
At present there’s very little clarity over when non league football will resume, but Windsor boss Mark Cooper has tentatively pencilled in the club’s pre-season plans.
Right now it’s not certain if players will be able to return for training – even socially distanced training – next month, but Cooper and his coaching team are preparing for all eventualities, and are hoping June 20 will be the squad’s first session together.
The Royalists coach – who led the side to safety in last season’s Hellenic Premier Division before the league was declared null and void due to coronavirus – concedes football may not return for many, many months, but, pandemic and lockdowns aside, he’s very positive about the future.
“It’s impossible to say when we’ll be back,” he says.
“The top league getting back to playing football is very, very different from the level we’re playing at.
“The testing and the hygiene will be so much better at their level and right now there’s no clarity as to when we’ll be able to return.
“But we have to plan for every eventuality and the date for us to return for pre-season is June 20. It may be that training is still able to go ahead with social distancing measures in place.
“At the moment we’re limited to Zoom workouts with Luke Brooks-Smith who does them every Saturday morning, and we’ve got a running club which everyone is putting some good kilometres on.
“In terms of our first pre-season games we’re looking at mid-July, but obviously they’re very tentative because we simply don’t know what the policies will be around then.
“We want to get the group back together on June 20, but we’ll be governed accordingly.
“Hopefully, by then we’ll be into the next stage of lockdown easing.”
Cooper came in midway through last season and slowly overhauled the squad, dragging the Royalists away from the relegation places to finish 11th in the table. It was a slow and steady improvement after taking over duties from player/coach Luke Brooks-Smith, and results fluctuated at times, but Windsor looked to be upwardly mobile when the campaign was called to a halt.
“We’re very positive about the future,” added Cooper. “We were improving week by week and were slowly improving the squad. We’re excited about the future. We’ve spoken to players we’re looking to bring in to further enhance the squad.
“When we took over we had a squad that did need an overhaul and we managed to do that throughout the season by improving the personnel slowly but surely.
“We’ll continue to do that by looking to bring in three or four new players so we can push on again. But we similarly understand that we may not be able to get back as quickly as we wish.
“We were excited about the last 10 games and seeing what we could do, but having said that we weren’t going to win anything, and there were clubs who suffered from the null and void decision much more than we did.”
Things may look bleak for the return of non league football in the near future, but Cooper maintains that things could change very quickly and he’s hopeful Windsor will be in a position to take advantage of that if they do.
“We’ve been in lockdown since March 23,” he said. “We’re not even two months into it and it feels like a long time, but in two month’s time things could look very different. Things could change pretty quickly. As it stands there is no solution to this pandemic just around the corner and there are obviously doubts about when the season can safely return, but we’ll have to see what the guidelines are then. If we’re told we can go back we’ll go back, but if we’re told it’s a way off we’ll have to live with that as well.”
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