This moment had been a long time coming, live football on a pitch in front of my very eyes! My last game was back in March, a wet Tuesday night at Woking watching Barnet win 3-1. Three days later or so, we were heading towards a lockdown and that was that!
Now it’s fair to say that while for most lockdown wasn’t the best of experiences, I was lucky enough to still get out to work and had a captive audience for this blog which is still going strong months after (at the time of writing I’ve had over 3000 visitors this month after 2000 each consecutively).
I’ve a whole list of clubs to head to this season, some I didn’t get to last season and some whose managers have been very good and forthcoming during the last few months and feel it’s only fair I pop along and support them as they did me in getting these figures as high as they are.
I had it suggested to me during this period to do a regular feature on a manager with a club and thought that’s not a bad idea to be going along with, something new, something different and a commitment for the season.
Terry Dodd and East Preston FC, who play in the Southern Combination Premier Division, are that subject for the 2020/21 season. Terry, I got to know well during his and my time at Wick FC last season, he parted company with the Crabtree Park outfit during the lockdown period and not long after agreed to become player-manager at The Lashmar.
Not surprisingly as across grassroots football, the shutdown period has hit clubs very hard and Dodd is currently working without a budget until the club is able to allow mass gatherings in their clubhouse which is the goldmine for clubs at this level and similar to keep the football side running, having done my own stint as Secretary and Treasurer at Wick I fully appreciate and understand it.
With fans now allowed back in EP can now start to rebuild slowly and begin to get their club back on track. Saturday saw their first spectators back in the ground since March, 68 of the allowed 150 attended. This midweek saw the club stage two games and I made sure I was at both!
A rather windy Tuesday night in Sussex for the Under 23’s taking on Step 7 Rustington, track and trace done, plenty of room for everyone, I would say around 50 at least inside the ground, maybe a few more. EP are a very young side given the lack of budget, but there were a couple of stand out players, one of whom made his way into Dodd’s squad for the first team Wednesday night game, playing together will give these young guys some good experience and are likely to be needed throughout the season with games coming thick and fast. Like so many people, it was great to be back watching live football again, very safe, and not an issue I could see as to why we haven’t been watching games since early August!
Bognor Regis Town from the Isthmian Premier were the visitors on Wednesday night, designed to help the club gain some much-needed gate receipts with 150 maximum allowed again and a good test for Dodds’ team. The Rocks raced into a 3-0 half time lead but didn’t find the net until the final ten minutes when fitness started to tell, and three more goals duly followed for a 6-0 final scoreline.
I caught up with Terry on Thursday morning to see how he felt the game went:
‘I was disappointed with four of the goals, felt they were avoidable, but they are a particularly good team. We had a game plan and we wanted to stick to that as much as we possibly could, but the level they play at with the players and movement they create, it’s always going to be tough. For us though it’s about getting our boys to a good fitness level and playing minutes, hard minutes is the best way to do it.’
‘Considering seven of our starting eleven could still play Under 18 football I thought everyone worked really hard and all I want is for them to take this as a massive learning experience in their development and keep pushing to be better every game.’
‘I’m hopeful we should have a couple of players back from injury before we take on Chatham Town in the FA Cup next Tuesday at home (KO 7.30pm) and one or two others available as well.’
Lots more to come throughout this season from Terry and East Preston from hopefully a reasonable campaign.
What’s also been crucial in happening is to get a game in to host 150 allowed spectators, that has meant the club can now host 300 people on Tuesday evening having ticked the box on the first exercise. If all goes to plan clubs should be able to increase beyond 30% by the time October comes around and with games happening at such a pace it won’t be long before the winter nights come rolling in.