Steve Wilkes writes this week’s Northwich Victoria column and he explains the difficulties of managing a football team in the current climate of so many unknowns

ON Saturday we played our first game in 137 days, since a 3-1 home victory against Padiham on March 14. How times have changed.

I first became a manager in July 1997 and every pre-season since I have hated the time from the last game to the day the signing-on forms arrive, for the new season.

You think you’ve secured a player in the weeks leading up to the first pre-season training session and the forms coming out but nothing is secured until they sign on that dotted line.

This pre-season is going to last much longer than normal, due to the dreaded deadly coronavirus that is sweeping the world.

I’m sure all non-league managers are going through the same problems as myself. By this I mean: When should we have started training again? When should I arrange pre-season friendlies for when we don’t know when the season will officially start again? How hard do I train the players when we don’t have a start date – I can’t just keep running and running the players because when the season does eventually start, they might be burnt out as such.

Pre-season is all about getting the players in the best shape possible for the start of the season, which, as I’m writing these notes, we still don’t have a concrete date for.

Add into this, the fact that we could only start back in groups of six and we had to social distance, you’ll understand why this has been the toughest pre-season since I became a manager in 1997.

The good side to all our training sessions has been the turnout from our fans. Whether it’s 30 or the 60 odd that we’ve had, it has been brilliant for the players to witness. The new players that we have had down training can’t believe the turnout they’ve seen.

But it has been a difficult period trying to recruit new players.

Nobody knows what kind of financial state clubs at our level will be in when we eventually get back playing.

Therefore it has been different when trying to get someone to agree. Having said that, I’m happy so far with the new lads that have agreed to join and I’m hopeful that in the next few days/weeks, we will have a few more new faces at the club.

Our first pre-season friendly at Bolton Lads and Girls club was a surreal experience.

Not only was there no fans allowed, but due to the new Government guidelines within football, and the lockdown of certain parts of Greater Manchester – where the game was played – we weren’t allowed to use the changing rooms.

The players were temperature tested on arrival at the ground and made to sanitise their hands. The club wasn’t allowed to provide the players with any kind of drink, they have to provide themselves.

All the kit was handed out in individual carrier bags and had to be placed back into the same carrier bags once the players had changed.

The game itself went ok as we won 2-1. In the first half I started eight new faces, a mixture of the new players and a few that are still currently on trial. We trailed 1-0 at half-time, but goals from Ryan Winder and Saul Henderson saw us home.

Northwich Guardian:

Action from Saturday's friendly. Picture by Angela Buckley

We have a further six, possibly seven, more friendlies before we play in the FA Cup on Saturday, September 5.

I hope that the ‘no fans at games’ ban gets lifted sometime soon. I know we all have to abide by the current regulations but I find some of them a little confusing.

Take our friendly on Saturday as a prime example. Forty-odd players had to get changed on the side of the pitch, yet those 40-odd players and coaches of both teams then went to the pub round the corner, sat with each other and had a drink together.

Hopefully you’ll understand now, the reason why the manager of Northwich Victoria has no hair and when his beard grows, it’s a grey beard.

But ask the manager if he’d want to be managing any other club – I’ll tell you his answer, not a chance, I love this football club and everything and everybody associated with it, plus Olé has turned it around at Old Trafford.

Ziggazaggaziggazagga Northwich Vics.