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Marlow's players to return for a 'pre-season of sorts' from the end of June

Marlow manager Mark Bartley has confirmed the club will return to a ‘pre-season of sorts’ from the end of this month, and is confident the Blues can put the required protocols in place to be ready for a September start to the season.

The Blues saw an indifferent South Central Division campaign, blighted by injuries, suspensions and mixed form brought to an end in mid-March with the club in 11th place.

But the FA moved swiftly to cancel the remainder of the season and declare the competition null and void. While disappointing in one respect it has allowed managers like Bartley to look ahead to next season and attempt to gain any advantage they can over their rivals.

Bartley firmly believes his side will compete for promotion – and it will still be nagging at him that they couldn’t quite manage that last term.

“It’s been a strange time for me, usually being so active during the season with training on Tuesdays and Thursdays and then matches on Saturday,” he said. “There has been a bit of a hole in my week and there hasn’t even been football on TV to watch.

“So I’ve channelled my time into doing things that are beneficial to the team. I spent a lot of time re-watching games we had last season. I’ve also put some time into planning for next season, thinking about where we want to be, which players we want to target and how we can go out and get them.

“Now we’re looking at trying to get back to a pre-season environment of sorts by the end of the month.”

Pre-season, if you can call it that, will be very different to the ones Bartley had been used to throughout his career as a player and manager. Different coaches will work with different small groups in a socially distanced manner to begin with but, crucially, the team will be together again and putting graft in towards their goal of improving on last season.

“Each coach will have six players that they will work with,” he said. “They will work in their own space, each will have their own balls, bibs, cones etc and we’ll keep those training bubbles separate, but, everyone will be in the same place at the same time. And there will be a consistency in the training and the message that we’re delivering to the players. We’re working on going back by the end of the month, so June 30 and we’ll build up from there.”

Every non league club will have to do a COVID-19 risk assessment and put various protocols in place to ensure matches can resume by September – the FA’s hoped for start date for the season. And, because of relatively low crowd numbers at step four, and the spacious nature of the ground at Oak Tree Road, Bartley is confident the Blues will be able to tick all of the necessary boxes from a risk and safety point of view.

“Gates might swell naturally because there’s no professional football on,” he said. “But at Marlow FC you could quite easily have 350 spectators in there adequately distanced out around the ground. Especially if social distancing is down to a metre by then. Season ticket holders could have a code which they scan to come in and you could have 200 general release tickets that could be bought online.

“With regards to the clubhouse you’d operate a one-way system with fire exits so people could use the bar area and maybe we’d have another couple of gazebo areas where people could also drink. I think because of the nature of our ground it would be easier for us to put games on. It’s not super straightforward but it’s relatively easy to implement these changes and I think we’d be able to do that. There’s lots to be positive about. And hopefully we’ll get underway not too long after our normal start date. When we come in from the end of June we’ll be very much focused on doing what we need to do to get ourselves ready.”

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