04:29PM, Thursday 27 May 2021
Slough Town’s players returned to the training pitch last week for the first time in several months and joint manager Jon Underwood said it was great to see them smiling and enjoying themselves once more.
For well documented reasons, the safety of players and club staff being the number one, Slough stuck their neck out and urged the league to bring last season to an early conclusion.
For someone who loves the game as much as Underwood does he says it ‘felt alien’ to do that, but most National League North/South clubs eventually followed suit and the league was scrapped and declared null and void in February.
Since then, Slough’s players have been kicking their heels, waiting for a return to normality, and last week they began taking baby steps back, building up their fitness, strength and conditioning ahead of a new season which will kick off on Saturday, August 14.
A host of friendly fixtures have also been scheduled, starting from July 3, and Underwood is confident their pre-season strategy will put the players in the best possible state of mind, both physically and mentally, for the new season.
“We called for the season to be ended for well documented reasons,” said Underwood.
“But it always felt very alien saying we didn’t want to play football because it’s what we love doing.
“But we’re excited about it returning and we feel a little closer to that now.
“We’ve started weekly training sessions to ease the lads back in and to take a look at some trialists and u23s players who have done well in their recent games.
“We’ve given the lads a proper break, longer than they’ve ever had before and now we’re easing them back in.
“If you saw their faces when they turned up on Thursday, they were delighted to see each other again. They enjoyed being back and taking another step toward normality.”
The plan is to step up training to twice a week from mid-June before getting back into a ‘more normal’ and focused pre-season routine of training and matches from the start of July.
Some changes to the squad have already been made, with goalkeeper Jonathan North and striker Tom Derry arriving and Sam Togwell and Jack Turner departing, and Underwood expects one or two more players to be added to the squad before pre-season begins in earnest.
“One player we intend to announce next week,” he said.
“But he’s under contract with his current club until the end of the month. There are also a couple of players who were with us last season and who are back training with us but, for different reasons, it’s not 100 per cent certain they’ll be with us for the season. So, there’s the possibility for a couple more ins and outs.
“We’ve decided to bring the players back in, but we’re doing it very gradually, so we don’t overload them.
“We’re doing some injury prevention stuff in these first few sessions to make sure their bodies are ready to go again.
“Footballers are used to having 10 months on and two months off in a normal year, and it’s been anything but normal for the past year and a half, so we need to protect them but also get their fitness levels back up.”
The race to get as many people vaccinated against coronavirus has ramped up in the Royal Borough and Slough amidst an ongoing rise in cases across the country.