Matt Griffin hopes the long lay-off will present Ecclesfield Red Rose 1915 with a golden opportunity to end Swinton Athletic’s two year County Senior unbeaten run.
The Sheffield & Hallamshire County Senior League’s post lockdown League Cup competition kicks off tomorrow behind closed doors and the top clash in Group C sees Ecclesfield face a daunting trip to tournament favourites Swinton.
Swinton have been the dominant force in County Senior Football for the last two seasons and they were unbeaten in the whole of the two aborted Premier Division campaigns.
Griffin admits Ecclesfield face a huge test, but he points out that the timing of the clash may be perfect for his men.
Griffin told Non League Yorkshire: “Do you want Swinton first game? Well you’re obviously not going to pick them are you, but at the same time why not have them in the first game back?
“It is a bit of an unknown at the minute. We don’t know what their levels of fitness are going to be like?
“We’re pretty confident in our lads’ fitness. Swinton’s quality is there. They have some great players and they are a great club and team.
“We have to treat it in the way that it is the best chance to beat them as until this week nobody has been able to train as a team for months.
“But whilst they haven’t lost a game in two years, you also have to bear in mind that they haven’t been given a league title either which is massively unfair on them and must be hard for them to accept.
“You have to take your hats off to them because going unbeaten for two seasons is not easy in any standard of football.
“They’re not going to want to come into this and let Red Rose beat them in a game at their own ground.
“They’re going to be wanting to prove to everyone why they are haven’t been beaten.
“We acknowledge the strengths they have got, but let’s be honest there is no pressure on us. We can go into it knowing people have the expectation of Swinton beating Red Rose in the first game back.
“We’re underdogs and we’ll try and thrive off that and hope that they’re not as sharp as they would have been earlier in the season.”
Ambitious Sheffield Town and Division One outfit South Elmsall United Services make up the rest of the sides in Group C battling it out for a place in the quarter-finals.
Saying it is a tough group is certainly true, but it is not the “group of death” according to Griffin.
“It depends on how you look at it,” he said.
“I know why they did the seedings, but it means every group has someone established from the Premier who is good.
“The Division One teams coming up and giving a go, I take my hat off to them because they didn’t have to.
“We rate ourselves, I’m not going to say we don’t.
“But we are only two years into our four or five year plan to try and force our way into the top two or three (in the Premier Division).
“Group of death, I don’t think so. Obviously Swinton are in there and we have them in the first game.
“Sheffield Town are always good and they have some fantastic individual players.
“We know very little about South Elmsall, but knowing teams from that part of the world they are going to give everyone a game.
“I think every group is going to be tough.
“I look at them all and think they are all tough, but if you get Swinton in your group you’re slightly on the back-foot to start with because they have been such a good team over the last two years.”
Regardless of the outcome of Group C in six weeks’ time, the players who have taken part are the real winners.
With the country being in a severe lockdown for month, the League Cup provides an opportunity for players to reconnect with their team-mates and Griffin agrees the competition fulfils a social need.
“To a man everyone wanted to take part (in the cup),” he said.
“We knew if we got 12 or 14 we could give it a go, but within an hour of asking them we had 18 lads saying they were up for it.
“As a management and coaching team we wanted to as well.
“In fact, I read your piece with the Dodworth manager (Darren Young) and I couldn’t agree more with the bloke.
“There’s a wider thing here and we’re quite conscious of the support teams give to young lads.
“There’s no hiding from the facts, that age group has a lot of mental health issues that are well-documented.
“There’s been two seasons where they have had it taken away from them through no fault of their own. I know it is a wider public issue.
“But this is cup is about getting the lads back together playing and training again, but also socialising and seeing each other and having that life away from home and work.
“Something dawned on me during lockdown that I may be stuck in the home with my family, but some of the lads in their early 20s still live with their parents and not meant to be seeing their bird or missus.
“Football is their getaway on their weekend.”
If you have enjoyed reading Non League Yorkshire over the past few months, please consider making a donation to the not-for-profit organisation NLY Community Sport which provides sport for children and adults with disabilities and learning difficulties. CLICK HERE to visit the JustGiving page. There is a video at the bottom of the page showing our work.
NLY Community Sport, run by James Grayson and Connor Rollinson, has always had combatting social isolation at the top of our objectives when running our Disability Football teams. When we properly return to ‘action’, our work will play an important role in reintroducing our players, who have disabilities and learning difficulties, back into society.
We have six teams, a mixture of Junior and Adult teams – Nostell MW DFC, Pontefract Pirates, Selby Disability Football Club and the South Yorkshire Superheroes (Barnsley) – across Yorkshire.
We have enjoyed great success over the past three years. Several of our players have represented Mencap GB in Geneva, including Billy Hobson from Selby and Greg Smith, whose story is quite inspiring.
Watch the video below to see highlights from our three years as an organisation. The video was produced for our players at the end of March to remind them of good memories from the last three years.