Goole AFC joint manager Les Nelson is pleased that the return of Non League Football is on the horizon, but he admits he would have supported a reduced campaign for one season only.
Toolstation NCEL clubs and players face a full voltage season and the most congested schedule in living memory – also during a pandemic – as the planned September start means the number of midweek fixtures will be at an all-time high.
That is even before you consider the potential of local lockdowns and bad weather which would cause carnage to the schedule.
To avoid major fixture problems and reduce travelling whilst the world is still in a pandemic, localised leagues have been suggested by some and Nelson believes that call has strong merits.
“It is a question (is there danger of serious fixture backlogs) that has played on many managers and chairman’s minds, including my own, and it is something we do need to take into consideration,” Nelson told Non League Yorkshire.
“We have seen a lockdown in Leicester and there’s other parts of the country where they are talking about the possibility of doing lockdowns.
“It is a worry. Everyone wants to play football and you have that in the back of your mind. Then you have November and December which are known for bad weather. It is unknown territory and unfortunately we have to play it week by week and try and adapt to whatever comes our way.
“There is concern that if local lockdowns do happen, say in Leeds or Hull, it stops all football for four weeks and then you’re in a situation where you have the weather backlogs and local lockdown backlogs. It is going to be a suck it and see.
“I’ve read a lot about the fixtures being a little bit smarter in terms of ‘why don’t the leagues get split into local areas so there’s not a lot of travel’ which would reduce the numbers of teams in a league down to 12, for example.
“The Nostell chairman (Kevin Allsop) did an article about it and it is not a bad idea, just for a year to get football back on its feet.
“I kind of like that idea. Just because we are in uncharted water with the Covid situation, it might have been smarter from a league point of view to do something like that so everyone is playing football again and so they (the leagues) can really plan for the season after. What we don’t want to see is another season expunged.
“But I’m extremely happy to be back playing football and I know the players and all the coaching staff are. We know what the league structure looks like and we’re going to have to run with it and make the most of it.”
Nelson, fellow joint manager Lutel James and their management team have assembled a large squad for their first full season at the helm of Goole.
It is a good job as given the amount of midweek games expected to be played will unprecedented demands on players.
“It has been sort of four midweeks at the start and four midweeks at the end previously,” he said.
“(Going forward) we are going to be asking a lot of the players to fulfil the fixtures and as managers and coaches we are totally aware of that.
“Bringing in a big squad to compensate for players missing here and there is definitely the right thing to do.
“I actually like having a big squad because things will always happen, injuries, work commitments.
“While they are committed to us, there will be people who might not be able to make a game or two.
“Having a couple of options in every position it is certainly beneficial to any football manager. We’ve tried to be smart and said ‘can we bring in people who can play in various positions if needed’.”
In the last week the government gave their permission for Non League clubs to start playing friendlies from August 1st.
As well contact training can begin and Nelson, James and the Goole management team can start properly scrutinising their new look squad – which includes Nathan Woodward, Tawheed Ahmed, Ollie Maude, star goalkeeper Mat Zaniewski and Carlton Athletic’s 103 goal machine Anees Younis.
“Like most managers it (the government given permission to the new guidelines) was music to my ears,” he said.
“We’ve all been in a pre-pre-season training in our groups of sixes and you don’t really get a feel for what your starting eleven looks like.
“You’re not seeing them in a match scenario and what they are going to bring to the team.
“The news was really positive for me and Saturday will be our first full contact session where we can play a game (in training) and see what we’re all about and really have a look at our players.
“From a squad point of view, it is where we needed to be and I’m pleased with the signings we have brought in.
“Other than a couple, they are experienced at either this level or above. Everyone is looking forward to the season and we’re excited about getting some friendlies under our belts.
“It is all coming together and there has been a lot of work done in pre-season to get in my opinion the squad right. There’s still one or two areas we’re waiting on to improve.
“Ultimately what it is all about for us having people on the pitch who are reactive, proactive, pacy. We want a fast-moving team.
“We don’t want to be that team that is just lumping the ball up to the strikers and playing from there.
“We tried to bring a whole host of players to give ourselves a variation of how we want to play our football. Every team is different and that allows us to set up differently.”
Goole have yet to announce any friendlies, but even if they do, their supporters will not be able to attend if government rules remain in place regarding large gatherings.
Nelson hopes that changes, for the fans, and also for Non League clubs who need the money that friendlies bring.
“I feel for the fans, I genuinely wish there is something we could do,” he said.
“We have just got to follow the Government guidance regarding fans in stadiums. You watch the Premier League and the Championship with no fans and it is not the same.
“It will be great to get them (the fans) back in the stadiums which in turn will give those struggling to get out during the week something to do.
“Friendlies are also meant to be money-spinners for clubs. Clubs will always go and get that marquee friendly which brings in revenue and feeds back into the club and be spent on a number of things.
“Clubs like themselves and others do rely on good gates from pre-season friendlies. That’s a barrier we will overcome, but it certainly hasn’t helped us going forward.
“I look at our ground and it is a big ground and let’s say the average gate is 200 people. From a social-distancing point of view, we could still accommodate 200 or 300 people, but I’m aware that there are other grounds that are compact and would struggle. You feel for them.
“Hopefully there is a shift in the guidance in the next week or two so that fans can watch and it gives clubs like ourselves that opportunity to raise more funds for the coming season.”