01:00PM, Friday 10 July 2020
This week’s return to training felt ‘very different’ for the Rebels players and management team, but despite being disconcerted by the protocols in place, Neil Baker said excitement was starting to build ahead of next weekend’s play-off tie with Dartford.
The Rebels finally have a date in the diary for their clash with the Darts and say the tie, which will kick off at 3pm on Sunday, July 19, will be streamed live for fans.
After several months away from the training ground the Rebels squad got down to some hard work from Saturday, after all tested negative for COVID-19. They’ll have six sessions together before stepping onto the field for their eliminator tie on July 19, but only got their first taste of full-contact football again last night (Thursday) when they took part in an in-house match.
They’ll also play a friendly against National League North side Brackley Town tomorrow (Saturday). Brackley are taking part in the NLN play-offs and will host Gateshead next weekend.
Reflecting on the first few sessions, Baker admitted it had felt anything but normal.
“No, it’s very different,” he said. “With the various protocols and non contact stuff, it’s different. We can’t use the changing facilities.
“You come into the ground one way and go out another, there are one-way systems in place and it’s only when you get out onto the field that there’s a bit of normality.
“We’ve also had to keep the first couple of sessions non-contact which is to do with the league and Government protocol in terms of the return of competitive football. You have to come back in a controlled fashion. If it had been down to choice we’d have been straight back into contact football but it’s a Government directive that we’ve had to adhere to. It’s been a little bit restrictive because everyone’s in the same place but you’re working in smaller groups. You feel like you’re together but you’re not actually training together. But it’s still exciting.
“Tuesday was good. We felt we got a lot out of it and the lads are in reasonable shape so we can’t complain about that.
“The desire is there from the players and we’ve just got to transfer that into the game itself.”
Baker added: “All the clubs will have their match-day protocols. We’ve had to liaise with Brackley and both clubs are having to do things to make sure the game goes ahead. I think there are other games lined up as well and that most teams (in the play-offs) will be playing this weekend.
“I think the strange part is we’re only getting one friendly match in.
“We’re playing Brackley on Saturday and that’s it. Normally you’d get five, six or seven games possibly to get yourself up to match speed.
“And more often than not you don’t really get going until a month into the season, that's when people are really on it.
“So the fact that we’ve had three and a half months off, it’s longer than we’ve ever had off before, it’s very different.
“I don’t think there’s any way of knowing how you’re going to be. It’s going to be purely down to ‘can you get the intensity into your game?’
“Because I think we’ve seen in the Premier League, getting that intensity, when there’s no one in the ground, is difficult.
“You’re trying to get out of the mentality that it’s a training game. Which is possibly how it might feel. We just have to try and get the players mentally right and hope that they can get through.”
The measures, and financial costs, currently being absorbed by Slough Town are just about manageable in the short term to cover two or three play-off matches, but Baker says Government restrictions will need to be eased significantly for there to be any realistic prospect of the new season starting again in either September or October.
He added: “This Saturday the players will be coming down in their own kit. They’ll be given that before hand and will have to wash it afterwards.
“It’s very different and that’s why there has to be much more change in terms of the Government restrictions before there’s any real return to football at our level. Play-offs are different because you’re talking about two or three games but to consider starting a season with the current restrictions in place, I don’t think that’s workable.
“Testing for the new season just won’t happen. While testing is needed football at our level won’t start. There’s no question about that.
“From our point of view we’re still in the 2019/20 season, we’re not even thinking about the 2020/21 season and that will be the case until we either get promoted or we’re out of the play-offs. Then we’ll have to wait on Government directives.”
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