With the current Coronavirus Pandemic unfolding around us and the Club not currently knowing when the next fixture will be played, we caught up with manager Neil Smith for his thoughts.
Q. Neil, it’s a very difficult time at the moment isn’t it, particularly given the performance we saw away to Harrogate Town last time we played?
A. Yes, it’s a very testing time. Especially after the Harrogate game where we had that bit of luck with the own goal, all the players were fit and there was increasing competition for places. You could really see the belief of the players in that game, against a side who were riding high and scoring a lot of goals, as well as sitting second in the league. So yes, it was a frustrating in respect of the timing of when this all unfolded. We had a couple of games coming up at that point where we believed we could do well and start to get our mojo back. The boys showed belief and spirit in the Harrogate match that I hadn’t seen in a while.
Q. It must be very difficult to plan ahead now, not knowing when the next match will be?
A. Planning ahead is very difficult at this time with the reports that are coming back from the National League that it’s suspended indefinitely. You can’t plan ahead – there’s no end date for this. We just don’t know how long this current situation will last. I obviously can’t have the players training together at the moment, so they’re having to go home and keep themselves in shape just in case we can play on in this season. I personally don’t think we can, it’s a very difficult situation with contracts coming to an end, so whatever happens now is up to the FA and National League to come to a compromise for all Clubs. The likelihood is there’s not going to be an answer which works for everyone; some Clubs will be happy, some disappointed. I think the FA and National League need to make a decision soon so we can put this season to bed and prepare as best we can for next season, currently not knowing when we’ll next play or even be able to train together. There are difficult decisions to be made, but in terms of planning and training, we’re waiting to find out whether the lockdown will be eased or stepped up again. So the players have to keep themselves fit and make sure they’re in shape, ready for whatever happens.
Q. Technology is a great thing. How has it helped you keep in touch with your players and also for them to continue their training?
A. Technology has definitely improved since I was playing compared to where we are now! The players have heart rate monitors, FitBits, other apps they can use to ensure they can challenge themselves and keep track of what they’re doing. They can easily keep track of all their data and where they should be in terms of their training and fitness. Before we went into Furlough, they were sending data into us and the Club so we could keep an eye on it. Now we’re in Furlough, it’s down to them to manage this themselves. They have access to their own personal data from matches which they can use to judge what targets they need to be hitting. The football side of things is down to a minimum now, so it’s just the fitness; I’d hope they are all keeping disciplined with it and remaining on top of things. Every now and then I’ll phone around and check how everyone is and what they’re up to. But in these times, this is when the player has to do these things themselves. You can have all the technology in the world, but what matters is the heart and desire to keep on working hard and that comes from within; Knowing that you’ve got to train and push yourself. This is a good leveller for seeing who wants to do this and not take the easy option. The technology we have access to is amazing, but this comes down to the player wanting to do it for themselves. This is a time where they don’t have a manager or a coach there demanding more from them, they’ve got to make sure they’re giving it their all while they’re away so when this calms down and we’re able to train, we aren’t waiting on their fitness levels to improve, because they’ll have looked after themselves.
Q. How has this time been for you personally? It must be difficult being out of an environment you’ve been in for your whole career.
A. It’s been really difficult, but the reality is this is football. It’s a fantastic job to be in and I’m privileged to be the manager of this Club, and I love every minute I spend there. It’s so close to where I am but I can’t go there. I love the environment around the Club and those who work there; Jeff, Matt, Cookie, Chloe, Brian, Jackie, James, Ronan and all the other staff are amazing people and you start to miss that daily interaction. I miss my coaching staff too, we speak on the phone every day and video call each other too. That said, it’s not the same as being in there with them and the players too, experiencing that banter and then getting out on the training pitch, putting things into practice, watching players grow and develop. I miss the buzz of the Saturday afternoons and the supporters getting behind us, I think we can all agree we miss that. There is a bigger underlying reason for this though, we know the fight each and every one of us has on our hands right now. We need to make sure we listen to the Government advice and stay indoors and keep the social distancing. We all love the environment of Bromley Football Club; it’s a passion. At the same time, we love our family and friends, and now is a time when we need to look out for them and make sure we don’t do anything which could harm others or ourselves. I can’t wait to get back into the footballing environment and begin to experience some sort of normality. When that happens it’ll mean we’re beating this virus and getting back on our feet, so the sooner that happens, the better.
Q. The Club has been doing some Community work around this period. How has it been to experience that and be involved with it?
A. The Club has been amazing in terms of what it’s done for the community. Before the lockdown, we were able to deliver food and supplies to those who needed them, as well as donate to food banks. We spoke to all of our Senior Season ticket holders and made sure they were ok. It’s humbling to see the impact of what we’ve been doing. We’ve all made sure we’re around and available to assist people in any way we can, and that’s been amazing. Jeff, Matt, Cookie, James and all the staff at the Club have all been working hard to help people and show just what we’re about. It shows how we want to be the hub of our local community. Like I’ve said in previous messages, we’ve needed the supporters this year, especially in the past couple of months when things were more difficult and we didn’t have much good luck and they’ve stuck with us in their numbers. It’s only right we show our support to them now and get through this together, making us all even more united than we were before.
Q. Have you began outlining any plans for next season yet?
A. It’s hard to start thinking about next season when we don’t know whether this season is finished yet. The quicker the decision is made and what it will mean for everyone, the sooner we can move on to preparing for what comes next. Until that happens and the virus is dealt with, it’s hard to prepare. We don’t know when we’ll be back training or playing, whether there will be a knock on effect on next season and so on. In that sense, it’s very hard to prepare even for pre-season fixtures, how Clubs are going to respond, what players will be available, what budgets will be like. It’s hard at the moment with no income in terms of gate receipts, sponsorships and so on. Many sponsors have been incredibly loyal to us during this time and previously, so we want to show our appreciation and loyalty back to them, they are very important to us. Many of them are facing the same difficulties that Football Clubs are, so we know what they’re going through. We’re in it together. In terms of players and what’s out there, there will be some who are out of contract and with the situation Clubs are in, those numbers could be higher than normal. We need to do what we can and be as proactive as possible, but at the same time, we need further guidance from the FA and National League before we can move forward properly.
Q. The Board of Directors have publicly backed the staff and players financially by committing to paying them 100% of their wages during this period. What does that mean to you?
A. I’d like to thank the Chairman Robin Stanton-Gleaves, and board members Jerry Dolke, Jon Plassard and David Waller for this magnificent gesture. As the manager, I couldn’t have asked for any more support in the past few months and in this period as well. The players, who I’ve spoken to individually about this, are blown away and humbled by what the board have done for them. Some of them are contracted until the end of April, others have deals for next season. In these troubling times, they’re all being looked after which is amazing. As manager of the Club, I have an interest in the staff, from my backroom team to the office, bar, catering and ground staff. We are in it together, and what the Chairman and the board have done here shows the loyalty that exists at Bromley Football Club, and this is something many other clubs haven’t done. The board are trying to do the best by everyone at the Club and ensure we’re in a strong position to hit the ground running on all fronts when we’re back to normal. We’d all like to thank the Board of Directors for what is a fantastic and very much appreciated gesture.
Q. Do you have a message for the supporters?
A. Stay safe, do what the Government recommend and make sure you stay at home. I know it’s hard when there’s family you want to see, but we’re all looking out for each other and we need to follow the advice. Bromley FC is a hub for families, we see parents, grandparents, children, siblings, partners, all sorts of people coming to support us. For me, I love seeing my brothers at home games, and it’s hard not being able to see them at the moment. So we do understand how you feel and we all need to battle this together.
I’d like to thank our amazing NHS staff, postal staff, delivery drivers, shop workers, all of whom are working non-stop at the moment to make life easier for us in these difficult times. Many of them will be overwhelmed at the moment with so much responsibility and we need to support and appreciate them. It’s a horrible virus with how it’s affected so many people, so we all need to do our little bit to support the NHS. Once we get back to normality, at Bromley Football Club we want to show our support for these amazing and vital people in whatever way we can.
In the mean time, supporters and sponsors, stay safe. We feel your pain, but we’re all with you at this time. We can’t wait to see you at Hayes Lane when we next play.