10:00AM, Friday 26 June 2020
Slough Town’s joint manager Neil Baker was jokingly referred to as the Del Boy of non-league football on Twitter this week after he managed to source and secure COVID-19 testing for the Rebels – and their rivals – at a reduced rate.
It’s just over a week since it was confirmed the Rebels would be taking part in the National League South play-offs, after a backlash from clubs – and pressure from MPs – forced the league to put them back on the table for step two clubs in an amended resolution.
The resolution was swiftly voted through by clubs in all three divisions and, provided the clubs involved can put the necessary protocols and testing in place to stage them safely, those matches will take place next month.
That’s where the club finds itself this week as it prepares to host Dartford on either Saturday, July 18, or Sunday, July 19, the first of potentially three matches which could see the Rebels promoted to the National League.
“Getting the players ready and getting the club ready to compete is more complicated than I imagined,” said joint manager Jon Underwood.
“I didn’t foresee everything that we’d have to go through. There are a lot of people who have been working pretty much non-stop to get the club to a place where we can compete.
“There are a lot of rules we’ve got to abide by and, quite rightly, player safety comes first. We’ve had to give a schedule to the league of what we plan to do in terms of training, where and when that will be and the measures we’re putting in place.”
Some big numbers were initially banded about by the league’s board over the cost of testing squads for COVID-19 and, while Underwood admits it will be an ‘unforeseen investment’ – especially if the Rebels make it through to the play-off finals on August 1 – they’ve been able to source the testing at a much cheaper rate and have passed this information on to the other National League clubs.
“It’s been a challenge for the club but they’ve been fantastic in how they’ve dealt with the situation,” said Underwood. “We’ve had a real open discussion about the financial side of things and have been able to source testing cheaper than we originally thought. Some of the numbers being talked about last week were way off the mark for me. I think the league said £50,000 for testing, but the bonus for us is that we’ve only got to test once a week rather than twice, so it’s doable, it’s a manageable cost.
“It’s an unforeseen cost, but everything at the minute is unforeseen.
“Neil (Baker) actually managed to source testing at a cheaper rate. It’s all above board. We’re not cutting any corners and that information has been opened up to the other clubs in the league. Everyone is pulling together and really wants to make it happen.”
To be compliant with COVID-19 regulations the game against Dartford will be played behind closed doors but, to help soften the blow of putting on the fixture, the club has set up a GoFundMe page, which has already raised more than £3,600, while other fans have set up their own independent fundraising pages to help ensure the play-offs go ahead as planned.
“I think pretty much every club has done that in our situation,” added
Underwood. “Things are tight for everyone at the moment and we’re not expecting to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds but fans are putting in £10, £20, £30 and it all adds up.
“The club is not putting itself in any trouble by doing this. It’s a very sensible club from that respect and there’s no danger of us putting the long-term future of the club in jeopardy.
“I think the club recognises that we should be trying to take this opportunity. These opportunities don’t always come along and there’s no guarantees that we’d get this chance again next season.
“The worry is that you spend all this time planning and organising and then go and get beat in the first game.
“But that’s the nature of play-offs. It’s a calculated risk but everyone sees it as an opportunity we can’t turn down. All 18 teams across the three divisions want to take part. If the numbers had been astronomical and were going to affect the club then there’s no way we would do it and myself and Bakes would have accepted that.”
The first round of testing will take place with the squad by the middle of next week with the hope they can resume group training on Saturday, July 4. The plan is to hold six sessions, going into the first game on July 18/19.
The winners will then travel to Havant for the semi-final the following weekend and the final is set to take place on August 1.
Click here to support the Rebels play-off push.
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