STRATFORD Town are gearing up for the new season after dealing with some unexpected pitch invaders during the lockdown period.
With new COVID-19 safety measures in place around the ground at Knights Lane, it is hoped the club can start playing league matches and welcoming fans once again in September.
A Discretionary Business Rate Grant from Stratford District Council, along with further funds from the Football Foundation, has helped the club financially after its revenue took a serious hit when lockdown was enforced.
However, without a confirmed start date for the 2020/21 league season, Stratford Town’s future is still uncertain.
Despite this, Mark Bickley, director and volunteer head groundsman of Stratford Town, is cautiously optimistic.
He said: “Overall, we’ve been pretty lucky when it comes to how much we’ve been affected by the pandemic.
“I think we’ve used the time wisely. Our volunteers have redecorated our changing rooms and bar, made repairs to the ground itself and have made sure hand sanitiser is everywhere for when fans return.
“We can certainly obey social distancing in crowds. Our capacity is around 3,000 but we only tend to get 300 for a normal league game.
“Happily, some of our sponsors have stuck by us through signing new deals and the grants we’ve received from Stratford District Council and the Football Foundation have been crucial to keeping us going.”
Keeping the pitch in good order during lockdown was a real challenge as Bickley had to make sure animals like badgers and foxes were not damaging the surface.
In one unfortunate moment when dumping grass away after mowing the pitch, he inadvertently disturbed a bees nest and received plenty of stings for his troubles.
“Looking after the ground during lockdown has been interesting to say the least,” Bickley added.
“Without humans to disturb them, all sorts of wildlife appeared to take advantage of this lovely green pitch.
“It was actually quite nice to drive over to the ground without seeing any cars on the journey and working on the ground being able to hear clear birdsong for once.”
However, he is now focused on making sure next season can start without a hitch. Provisionally, the first matches in Stratford’s league – Southern League Premier Division Central – start on September 19.
Bickley added: “A lot will depend on whether this year’s winter is bad or not. We’ll be starting the season about five or six weeks behind, so we can’t really afford for many games to called off through bad weather.
“However, we’re as ready as we’ll ever be. The staff, players and fans just want football to be back again. We honestly can’t wait.”