Lockdown sports series: Men’s Football


By George Lanigan, Third Year English

Over the past few weeks, Epigram Sport has been looking at how several University sports clubs have adapted to life in lockdown. In the penultimate article of the series, UBAFC detail their pre-season plans.

The return of football in 2020 has restored a semblance of normality to fans of the game. But in a sport where 22 players are running kilometres every match in close quarters with one another, sweating and breathing heavily, there is a major risk of Covid-19 transmission at all levels of the game.

The University of Bristol Men’s Football Club returned for pre-season last week, where steps have been taken to minimise such risk.

This has been especially important in the relative heat of September with intense group physical fitness drills, run by Now or Never Fitness coach Alex Fox.

The 2020/21 UBAFC season has already been altered hugely by the postponement of BUCS league fixtures until earliest January.

Although friendlies are planned for the preceding months, the usual flow of pre-season fixtures is unviable, given the Covid-19 risk of any team travelling distances in large groups.

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Even given all the restrictions, the pre-season turnout is the highest UBAFC has ever had, despite it seeming highly unlikely during the lockdown months.

According to new Club Captain Will Straw: ‘The prospect of being able to host a pre-season seemed far-fetched just a few weeks ago’, with the club sticking to strength and conditioning sessions via Zoom.

In his words, ‘through careful planning, hard work and a can-do attitude concurrent throughout the committee, we at UBAFC have managed to organise a safe pre-season in these crazy times.’

UBAFC also underwent a rebranding during lockdown | UBAFC

The initial focus has been on stringent registration of all players at every session to aid the government’s policy of track and trace, alongside a strict maximum number of players per session. ‘Following the Gloucestershire FA guidelines, new practices surrounding cleanliness and social distancing have become part of our everyday schedule’, Straw said. This has applied to both training and social events.

When training sessions have taken place, handshakes have been banned and the players have been split into smaller groups of ten per session, to lower the risk of transmission.

Pre-season seemed far-fetched just a few weeks ago

With each training drill, Head Coach Alan Tyers has allocated two members of the club to arrange the cones, so these are not being touched (and possibly infected) by multiple people.

Although social distancing is naturally impossible in matches and most training drills, the coaches have kept a firm two metres from the players and avoided touching the balls at any point.

With the tightening of Coronavirus rules in England this week, a temperature check has also been introduced for further insurance.

As new Coronavirus laws are being introduced frequently, the 2020/21 UBAFC Committee will be forced to react accordingly.

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Yet there is a sense of positivity going forward. The return of football with the club has lifted spirits after months of lockdown and there is still hope for trials in September, delivering a new intake of strong footballers.

The first pre-season inter-club friendly at Coombe Dingle (finishing 1-1) demonstrated some real talent on show, boosting hopes of another successful year for UBAFC. In Straw’s words, ‘in continuing to adapt and move with the times, we can have our best season yet’.

Featured: George Lilleywhite

How are your team’s pre-season plans going?