With fixtures throughout the entire sporting world (with the bizarre exception of Belarus) postponed until further notice and sportsmen forced to train at home in isolation, The Moorlander spoke exclusively to Torquay United manager Gary Johnson, whose team currently lie 15th in the National League, about how he and his players were coping with the enforced shutdown.
“Well the lads are on a hi tech remote training programme,” he said, “they’re on three, five and six kilometre runs, they have to send back all their information which comes back via an App we’ve given them.
‘They all took their GPS vests home with them with one football, I’m not sure what they can do with one ball at the moment, practicing ‘keepy-up’ in the garden or something,” the Gull’s boss joked.
“They have to go out for a run a day, different types of runs, we know where they run and where they are, that they are keeping near to home, we know the calories they’ve burned, the GPS gives us lots of information really. We have a WhatsApp chat group so that everyone knows what’s going on. To be honest it’s felt like two months but it’s only been a matter days so far.
‘As for myself and my staff we’ve been able to watch games we’ve played this season to assess ourselves more deeply and also to look at videos of prospective players we could take on board maybe when the season starts up again. We’re looking for recruits to add to our squad because we’ve got a few loans and we don’t know when we’ll get them back or even if we’ll get them back so we’re going to need extra numbers anyway.
‘We’re planning on the season starting again; the league are saying that it’s only postponed at our level we just have to see exactly when that is, we’ve been told to carry on what we’re doing. The boys have got a home programme as well including injury prevention exercises which we do when were altogether in training anyway, they’re on a plyometrics regime too [exercises in which muscles exert maximum force in short intervals].
‘All in all they’ve got a pretty stringent programme to keep them going. We’ve already said that they’ve got to come back the same weight as when they left that’s a difficult one for them as it goes on and on and on, they’re probably absolutely frantic for a five-aside with their mates.”
But how is Gary occupying himself in these very challenging times now he’s excluded from the training ground? “On a personal level my missus is having second thoughts about me retiring as she’s not used to having me under her feet all day, but I’m trying to get things done around the house, I exercise daily too and I’ve tidied up my football room.
‘I’ve been going through all the memorabilia I’ve collected over the years. I’ve had a good cry over things that went well and a good cry over things that didn’t go so well, I’ve got a lot of memories. It’s been nice to wander down memory lane for a short while but I’ve got everything sorted now, all my programmes, videos and CDs are all sorted.”
But the longer that football is suspended there are implications at every level surrounding the race for promotion and relegation, play offs, player’s contracts, financial concerns and whether or not to furlough non-playing staff as is already happening at many clubs.
Nothing is certain and Leagues are now under extreme pressure to make decisions to extend their seasons or scrap them altogether.
Since speaking to the amiable Torquay boss, on Tuesday of this week the three divisions of the National League were suspended indefinitely. The competition had been originally postponed until 3rd April but that has now been extended following a League board meeting.
It comes after all non-league football in steps three to seven was ended immediately last week with no promotion or relegation.
The National League said it was looking at “how best to conclude” the season, but it is not yet known if the competition will also be cancelled with all results expunged.
How such a decision would affect Torquay is a matter for debate; with three games in hand on most sides around them mathematically they do still have an outside chance of the play-offs but even the most optimistic of Gulls fans would probably prefer to start afresh next season and hit the ground running.