2020: My Worst Year Involved in Football

Lockdown and 2020 has been my worst year as a manager/coach.

Some might think this is an odd statement, but none of it is for footballing reasons. I am extremely lucky and fortunate to be the manager of Hartlepool United in the North East Regional Women’s Premier we have ambitions to play in the FA Women’s National League (FAWNL).

Imagine the jubilation from the squad when we had beaten our league rivals Farsley Celtic to go a point off top with two games in hand, 18 months hard work and preparation and the FAWNL in touching distance for it to cruelly to be taking away from us. Five months of lockdown and some players felt they needed the chance to play higher and went with my blessing and others decided Hartlepool wasn’t the club for them, we have then gone from being in a position of strength to attending training with five players and a real chance of going under.

Imagine this feeling as a manager, everything you have worked for at the club you hold close to your heart within weeks of going under, the lockdown has sapped any ounce of energy left in the body. So what do you do slip into a hole and bow out or do you fight back.

Well myself and my staff fought back and believed in what we had to offer a football club and rebuilt. We bared our soul and allowed the players an opportunity to be totally honest. This was the most important 90 minutes of my 22 year coaching career, in a classroom delivering a presentation which ultimately built a structure a bond and a massive team spirit. Football can be a lonely place but I am lucky to have the best staff in the business, Andrew Hetherington, Ryan Davies and Daryl Millar. I will work with them for the rest of my career, they are great coaches but just as important, they are great people.

We have started the season really well, showing class, togetherness, training and games are a real joy and we are top of the league and what happens again, Boris and another lockdown. Questions going round my head, How many positive cases in women’s football? Can we not play behind closed doors? How do players stay motivated? How do staff stay motivated? Will we ever return?

So many unanswered questions, hard work and preparation from coaches, staff and players gone out of the window, tossed aside like rubbish in a bin. If we had money we would be allowed to continue plain and simple, ultimately that’s the sad part of being involved in grassroots football we are just not as important as others. Is it the club’s fault they have money, absolutely not but it does make the world go round for the government?

So what will happen in grassroots football is it the beginning of the end for some, it does seem likely and the years of hard work in the women’s game improving participation will be for nothing.

So I suppose the question I pose do we slip into a hole or do we fight back? I know which side of the fence I am on and the countdown begins to when I can see my staff and players again. #NeverSayDieUpThePoolsWomen