Ben Snowdon, Cumberland FA CEO has a message for everyone involved in grassroots football across the County as we look ahead to the 29th March 2021.
The last time I communicated like this was at the end of 2020 and, like many, I was hopeful that a new year would bring with it a change in fortune. Whilst the vaccine and its rollout have given us a real sense of optimism, things didn’t quite go according to plan and 2021 started with us entering a National Lockdown for the third time.
I think, due to a few contributing factors (the hopefulness of a New Year, it being in the aftermath of Christmas, the dark mornings and nights, home-schooling, the fact we were in a lockdown again etc.) meant that, personally, I found this the most difficult and, at times, challenging lockdown to deal with.
Like many, I really had to focus on myself and my own Health; Happiness; and Well-Being.
I was fortunate to attend a Mental Health First Aid course last year and during that they spoke about finding your own protective factors to either get you to the above or to ensure that you remain in that ‘happy place’.
I have found that one of my protective factors is exercise. So, I was delighted, along with fellow staff members and other members of the grassroots community, to fill my time by firstly taking on a challenge of Red January (and being active every day) and then in competing in the CFAs virtual Race to Wembley. This gave me the much-needed motivation to get out there and benefit from doing something that clearly benefits me personally and fill the void that grassroots football left behind.
I, and particularly my knees, back and repaired Achilles are thrilled that grassroots football is due to return from the 29th March.
At present we are still waiting for the Government to provide the guidance around what this will look like. This will then allow The FA to update its guidance in order to satisfy the government and allow the game to return. However a basic update was provided, by The FA, to clubs yesterday (Thursday 18 March), which involved some additional restrictions.
I understand that, at times, the guidance and changes to it have been conflicting, difficult to interpret and therefore confusing, but I am slightly concerned in regard to the small, but still, increasing number of reports we have received of people seemingly choosing to ignore restrictions or looking for loopholes or reasons as to how to get around the guidance in the last few weeks.
I understand that some people do not agree with the situation we are in or the restrictions that are being placed on us. I have been brought up to believe that people are entitled to their opinions. I also know that I am not bright enough to know who or what is right and what is wrong when it comes to this pandemic. What I do know is that I want football to return, and to do that I may have to comply with some basic guidance and accept that, hopefully for not much longer, playing or watching football will be a little different.
I am aware that the issues we have had is only a minority of those involved in the game and would therefore like to thank all those individuals and clubs who have adhered to the guidance both prior to and during lockdown. I also want to thank those private coaching centres and businesses that adhered to the rules throughout and placed the perception and welfare of football above their own needs at what I know has been a difficult time professionally.
We must appreciate that we are extremely lucky, that football is one of the first things to return as part of the government plans. However, we remain under National restrictions and due to this it was abundantly clear that any return was not going to be a return to pre COVID football and there would therefore be a ‘trade off’.
We have a simple choice. Either football returns, and we must accept some additional restrictions around off the field procedures, or we wait for further restrictions to be lifted and this would mean we couldn’t recommence until closer towards the current projected 21st June end date for all restrictions.
Given where we are in our seasons and the undoubted benefit that football gives. I know where I stand.
Mental Health and the benefits that organised sport has upon this area has quite rightly been a key headline and rationale used to justify the need for the return of grassroots football.
However, this cannot be a throw away line and we must recognise the vital role we all have to play to ensure that football can be used as ‘a protective measure’ and not a contributing factor towards the state of people’s mental health and well-being.
As football will be one of the first restrictions lifted, those involved in the game may be amongst the first to encounter and identify potential issues with mental health and welfare.
I therefore feel that, as a County FA, we have a moral responsibility to support, educate and train Clubs around their ability to support and refer any individuals appropriately and ultimately maybe even save a life. We will therefore be making available a series of short training and support videos available to Clubs, as well as other opportunities, for those from within the game to access over the next few weeks.
We must be also be aware that not everyone will be as enthusiastic, over the imminent return of football, as myself and others reading this will be. For some there may be factors that mean that they are feeling worried, concerned, unmotivated. My own daughter, whose 7 years old, said, when asked whether she was looking forward to playing football again, that she was ‘nervousited’ (a mix of ‘nerves and excitement’) in case she had forgotten how to play, made a mistake or had lost her skills.
It is therefore vital that we all play our part in ensuring that the environment we create is a positive one and in doing so guaranteeing that football is a ‘protective factor’ for mental health and well-being.
I think the key to doing this will be to treat every game, that we are involved in, as a bonus.
Remember the Mental Well Being of all involved, including club officials, league officials and particularly our referee workforce (who will also have been impacted by the lockdown and are involved and supporting the game as a potential ‘protective factor’ for themselves – so they certainly do not need nor deserve abuse that will damage their mental health and well-being).
Behave yourself. We do not want you to be suspended from football having waited so long for it to return and therefore miss out on benefits of being involved.
In the grand scheme of things, the result, the performance, that decision, are all secondary to the fact that the game is back. So, enjoy it as such and try to remember, as The FA say as part of their Respect Programme “We Only Do Positive”.