Ossett United manager Wayne Benn has admitted he has grown weary of the constant uncertainty surrounding the season.
The Northern Premier League is suspended until at least the middle of January following the Government’s decision to place most of the North West into Tier 4 restrictions.
Ossett last played on October 24th and since the November lockdown ended, the experienced Benn has had to keep his men motivated without knowing when they will kick a ball again in the NPL.
Ossett and the rest of the NPL clubs also had to prepare during December for potentially playing on Boxing Day until the botched attempt by the league to restart the campaign was abandoned.
“When I say I’m fed up, I’m not fed up with football, it is just the circumstances and they are frustrating,” Benn told Non League Yorkshire.
“It is really frustrating not knowing from one week to the next about whether you need to prepare for a game in a week or two’s time or whether you’re going to have an indefinite period without football.
“It is so difficult to manage the whole situation.
“You’re trying to manage 20 players plus staff and you’re in constant communication with your club but they can’t tell you anything because they don’t know anything.
“It is just a mess and I can’t see us getting going (playing) anytime soon.”
As covid-19 cases are going beyond 50,000 on a daily basis and hospital admissions for the virus are at record levels, relaxation of Tier 4 restrictions are unlikely to be made anytime soon.
The four parts of Yorkshire remain in Tier 3 for now but will surely go into Tier 4 if cases rise in the next week or two.
The chances of NPL football returning in the coming month look slim and Benn says the case for ending the campaign right now has merits – although he stopped short of advocating it.
“With this announcement today and more teams going into Tier 4, that obliterates our league because most of the teams are from Lancashire,” he said.
“It is really tough for everyone. The people who run football clubs, the volunteers, the managers and players and the supporters.
“I like to think that I love my football as much as anyone involved in the game but I’m getting to the stage where I would have no issue if the FA turn round and say ‘it is null and void, start again in August’.
“We’re all blind at the minute and it is so difficult to know what to do for the best.
“It is a nightmare scenario and you’ve talked to loads of managers about it and we spoke in the summer and we knew there were going to be obstacles and it would be a challenge.
“I suppose people will look at me saying ‘we’re all fed up with it now, null and void’ and say ‘it is easy for you to say when you’re bottom of the league’.
“But no-one has played enough games to know where people will finish.
“I’m not a politician and if I was a betting man I would bet that we, as Yorkshire, will end up in Tier 4 which stops all training and games. How long that will last nobody will know?
“There’s a strong possibility that we won’t kick another ball again this season.
“That’s just an opinion, it is not based on anything other than cases rising. The vaccinations are not going to take effect in time to save the football season.
“I’m not saying this is what should happen but does it make sense to make a quick decision as a Government, league, FA they say ‘there’s a bigger picture, football is not the most important thing at this moment in time? People are losing their lives, cases are on the rise and it is only going to get worse before it gets better so ‘let’s park football until August’?
“Some people will agree and some will disagree and I’m not even saying that’s even my opinion, I’m just laying out an argument.”
Benn’s other frustrations are with the NPL whose kamikaze attempt to restart the campaign on Boxing Day led to an extraordinary uprising from a significant number of member clubs – including Ossett.
The shock restart announcement was made with just over a week’s notice and in the mind of the revolting clubs, without a thought over the financial consequences as games would have been played under the severe Tier 3 restrictions – 150 capacity with no tea bar or clubhouse open.
The league backed down several days later and hours after Sutton Coldfield issued a statement refusing to play and Benn is fully behind the clubs who took the strong stance.
“Like many clubs said, operating at 15% was just not financially viable so what was the point in restarting,” he said.
“Fair enough some clubs took the decision to play and that’s their prerogative and no-one has an issue with it.
“Ultimately we all want to play but you have to do what is right for your club. Our club’s stance was that it wasn’t financially viable while we are in Tier 3.
“If you do the maths and you think you might get one home game in a month and three away games, that home game at 15% capacity has to fund your finances for a month.
“It is just not going to happen.
“I know it is really difficult for the people organising these leagues and I’m not pointing the finger of blame at anyone.
“I think most clubs at our level have an issue over the lack of communication from the league and the lack of understanding towards the financial situation for clubs.
“We all understand that cases are on the rise and it was inevitable that games needed to stop.
“But to chuck it on people with ten days notice that the season is going to restart and you can play if you want on the 19th December and it is mandatory to play on Boxing Day with 15% crowds was wrong.
“There was no thought to anybody’s financial situation so fair play to the clubs who said ‘this is not viable financially’.”
He was also unimpressed with the NPL over the idea of even playing on Boxing Day.
“I was really surprised to see the league let teams play on the 19th and the wording was that it was mandatory to play on Boxing Day which still didn’t make sense to me,” he said.
“Why play on Boxing Day when you could have played during the following midweek and let people enjoy their Christmas?
“Nobody has been able to see their family this year and they were opening up to let you see family and yet they (the league) were still trying to make footballers play on Boxing Day.
“What was the sense in having Boxing Day on the fixture calendar?
“I know it is a tradition football on Boxing Day but this year has been an extraordinary year.”
If football makes a quicker comeback than expected, Ossett stand ready for battle and geared up to fight for their league survival, according to Benn.
Ossett are currently bottom of the Division One North West table.
“During the period of not playing (in December) we have managed to get everything back fit again,” he said.
“We signed Jack Dyche who is going to add real quality to our strike-force and we were all looking forward to getting going again and righting a few wrongs.
“We know we got off to a poor start and I’m not going to go into the reasons for it but we’ve had horrendous luck with injuries.
“The complete back four was ruled out at various points for long periods.
“So we really keen to get the season going again and with all due respect to the opponents we were due to play when we were due to be restarting, we had winnable games where we felt we could pick up points and start moving forward.
“I’m still extremely confident if we get going again and get the chance to finish the season that we will still have a good season.
“I’m really confident in the players we have got in the squad that we’ll quickly start moving away from the bottom of the league.
“That adds to the frustration because we have got ourselves back in good shape and got people back from injury and yet again we have a pause to the season.”
In the meantime, with Tier 3 restrictions allowing Ossett to train, Benn plans to carry on putting on sessions until told otherwise.
“We trained last night (Tuesday) and I said to the lads that we were trying to prepare for the best case scenario but realistically we know we’re going to end up with no football for a period of time,” he said.
“The lads trained hard but it is so difficult for them to motivate themselves when they don’t know what they are training for or when they are training for.
“We arranged a couple of friendlies (in mid-December) with the view that our season would restart on the Boxing Day.
“Now with no restart date even been thought about, it is difficult. Do you train, do you not? Do you give them training programmes or give them a couple of weeks off and see what happens?
“Personally I think I’m going to get my lads together once a week just for morale purposes and to be around each other and to keep that spirit and camaraderie.
“We’ll be giving them individual stuff to do which my lads have been doing diligently. It is difficult to sell that to the players though when we have no idea when we will kick a ball competitively again.”
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