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FEATURE: Behind the Scenes Planning

The second in our weekly features on life at the U's during the coronavirus crisis

24 March 2020

Each week through this crisis Communications Manager Chris Williams insists on making things considerably worse for everyone by writing a feature article. His views are his own and not that of the club.

A good friend of mine believes that there are two stories told each week at a football club. One is the drama and the spectacle of matchday. It’s what makes you fall in love with the game, the focal point of your week that governs your mood for a weekend. For many people it is enough. As a fan I used to go to the Manor, have a few beers, watch the game, go home, have a few beers in the pub and by the time I had gone home and had a few beers in front of Match of the Day, that day’s game was all but forgotten.
 
But the other story to betold is the soap opera that surrounds not just the team but the football club itself. For so many fans just watching the game is not enough. They want to know the ins and outs behind the scenes, the drama, the workings of the inner sanctum. They are right to be inquisitive; there is so much more to running a football club than meets the eye and so I thought it might be interesting to go through what turned out to be an extraordinary meeting, even by our standards, last Friday.
 
First of all, let me explain that we weren’t in lockdown and when I arrived at the training ground Andrew Harvey, who runs it day to day, was hefting heavy chairs around in the breakout room, usually used for coffees and table tennis and the biggest room in the building. Maybe a dozen chairs were set out in a room the size of a squash court and, as is always the way at a building with strong core principles, the meeting started bang on time.
 
Karl spoke first and set the agenda. You all know Karl; you know his attention to detail and his passion for the game, and his priority was to build a timetable based on EFL advice on when we might be kicking off again. At that time, the league was due to resume after 30th April so, rightly, the Head Coach worked backwards from that date, talked about a friendly, possibly against a Championship side, the week before the season started again and then set out two weeks of build up to that. Pre-season is usually six weeks, but with players still ticking over, a four week run-in is feasible, so it became a case of working out a schedule: one that could be shifted as and when the season start date moved, as it did last night and will do again…
 
Derek Fazackerley has seen more pre-seasons than most and offered plenty of advice as First Team Analyst Eddie Denton typed it all on the TV monitor that dominates the room. Chris Short, via a video link, and Dwayne Peasah, our Sports Science team, worked things out from a fitness perspective while Amy Cranston, Head of Medical, was at pains to point out that, whatever happens, we need to stick to all government health guidelines. Between them, they put together an amazing schedule and also worked out a way of keeping the players occupied and working hard at home to stay as fit as possible.
 
Wayne Brown will take responsibility for the keepers, who have their own little union. This was all done in conjunction (I almost put ‘hand in hand’ there but perhaps not right now) with Jamie Mackie who was representing the players and made the point that four of the players have pregnant partners and health guidelines are going to have to be adhered to. There are other people behind the scenes who also have real lives to somehow deal with. Two weddings,
two funerals and four babies. Take that Hugh Grant.
 
This is no movie though. This is real life. People see the players in yellow shirts as heroes on a
Saturday, but they aren’t. They are just people: the heroes are working in hospitals in shades of blue and green. Jamie also made the point that we have to look after our own right now: there are so many people who help around the club who aren’t full time and the players wanted to check they will all be OK.
 
That brought Niall McWilliams and Mick Brown into the discussion as MD and Club Secretary. They
went through the details of what it all means for staff at all levels and the practicalities of life for us all while working at home. Scott Humphries, groundsman at the training ground, might find that more difficult than most!
 
Dan Harris then went through what the Academy is doing and shared some of the innovations they had already put in place. Me? I stressed the need to keep fans informed and possibly entertained for however long it takes, and then the whole room talked about the need for this football club to play its part in any way we can across the community, do whatever it takes, to get messages across and to hopefully help people get through it all.
 
There were two big things I took away from the meeting. The first was the need for structure. Until that point, I had drifted through a week at home, working to my own timetable and
struggling to get to grips with everything in this strange new world. The players have now got a clear structure in place: report online at 10am and 12, work to do in the afternoon, various projects. Perhaps if this article has any purpose it is to say that since that meeting, I have personally found it much easier this week working to a schedule: up early, write things, video call to the media team at 9.30, edit and write, stop from 12 till 1, work 1.30 till 3 stop and get out in the garden or go for a walk and so on. I’m not lecturing, everyone will have their own ways of coping. Mine is to keep busy and keep order. Up to you.
 
But perhaps the biggest thing was that in that room were my colleagues and my friends and each of us (despite appearances in my case) knows their jobs. You will not find a more experienced or better-informed group at any football club, but we are all having to adapt everything we have ever learned. Right now, we are living outside our football bubble, not just two metres, MILES outside our comfort zones. I am so proud of the way we faced the challenge. Wewill get through this. We may be apart, but we remain united.

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