'Mental well being' is the driving force to get footballers playing again
Despite the league season being over, the Northants Combination has organised a supplementary competition for clubs in April and May
Hundreds of local footballers can look forward to lacing up their boots again next month.
The grassroots football season has been left in tatters due to the Covid-19 pandemic and third national lockdown, which came into force early in the new year.
Leagues across the country have been forced to null and void their seasons but many of them, including the Chromasport Northants Combination are now doing all they can to ensure something is still salvaged from the wreckage.
On Easter Saturday (April 3), just five days on from when organised adult and youth sports can start up again as part of the government’s ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown, the Combination will start a supplementary competition.
Clubs voted in favour of some sort of competition to round off a forgettable campaign and the league have duly delivered with teams being split into eight groups while matches will be played across nine Saturdays in April and May.
It might not be the season everyone wanted or expected but it is, at least, something for players to look forward to.
And that, as league chairman Richard Gardner observed, is the most important thing with the “mental well being” of players being the main driving force behind the competition.
“When the season started, everyone in local football and in the Northants Combination were just hoping that we could get a full season in,” Gardner said.
“But it soon became clear at the end of October and beginning of November that people were being affected by the rise in infections and hospitalisations.
“I was speaking to loads of people at the time and they were asking what we would do but it wasn’t really in our hands because the government were going to say something, then the Football Association would say something and the Northants FA would say something.
“I normally watch a game each weekend but I am also an FA observer and speaking to our own clubs and clubs from other leagues, the one thing that was very evident was that they were very concerned about the mental well being of lots of young lads.
“A lot of them had been furloughed or made redundant, a lot of them who weren’t in a job were going to find it increasingly difficult to get one and, in some ways, football was the release.
“Once a week for training and once a week on a Saturday afternoon they get to see their mates and play football and feel part of something.
“We are responsible for hundreds of footballers and you want to try to do your best for all those people at all those clubs, some of which have been with us for more than 50 years.
“Once we were in lockdown, we had a bit of time to think about what we might be able to do if we came out of it and there was still a season to play.
“We looked at things with a bit of kitchen table mathematics and it was fairly clear that even if we started at the beginning of April, we would not get the full season completed.
“We pretty much decided that the season would be declared null and void but then we looked at it and we have created nine fresh Saturday matchdays starting on Easter Saturday and running until the end of May.
“I think, initially, there was a feeling amongst some clubs that they were done for this season and were just looking ahead to a fresh start next season.
“But when we laid out our plans, it gathered a bit of momentum.
“I think a few clubs changed their minds after we came up with a concept, which provides something for the well being of the players.”
Gardner also paid tribute to the Combination’s two main sponsors - Chromasport and Duston Garage - who have maintained their support for the league despite the lack of football and the tough economic climate created by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We have got two sponsors,” the chairman added.
“Our long-term sponsor who have been with us since 2009 is Duston Garage and they have been very loyal to us.
“They are our principal sponsors for our cup competition so we have rebranded this supplementary competition with their name.
“Our headline sponsor is Chromasport and we have to make sure we thank these companies for their incredible support, especially during such a tough time.”
Duston Garage Supplementary Competition
Group A: Harpole, Kettering Nomads, Wollaston Victoria, Roade, Moulton.
Group B: Corby Pegasus, Stewarts & Lloyds, FC Aztec, Spratton, Medbourne.
Group C: Roade Reserves, Corby Locos, Northampton Spartak, Corby Strip Mills, West Haddon Albion, Bugbrooke A.
Group D: Higham Town, Wollaston Victoria Reserves, Corby Siam, Harpole Reserves, Moulton Reserves, Finedon Volta.
Group E: Brixworth All Saints, Stanwick Rovers, FC Eagles, Wilby Rising, Stewarts & Lloyds Reserves, Corby Ravens.
Group F: Rising Hope, FC Aztec Reserves, Corby Pegasus Reserves, Northampton Spartak Reserves, Finedon Volta Reserves, Corby Locos Reserves.
Group G: Kettering Ise Lodge, Kettering FC, Northampton Swans, Kettering Orchard Park, Corby Ravens Reserves, Rising Hope Reserves.
Group H: West Haddon Albion Reserves, Higham Town Reserves, Great Doddington, Corby Trades, Spratton Reserves.