FOOTBALL clubs across the Isle of Wight have welcomed the FA’s announcement of a phased return to grassroots soccer, with a view to kicking off the new season in September.

The FA confirmed the government’s backing of its plan for the return of outdoor grassroots football last week — putting guidelines in place for its safe return by mitigating the transmission risk of Covid-19.

Isle of Wight County Press:

The past four months have been some of the most challenging times for football — and society — so the news was roundly welcomed by clubs across the Isle of Wight.

Several Island clubs had already begun their pre-season training last month in the hope of starting football again — sooner rather than later — while others held off until a timetable for the game’s return was put in place.

Isle of Wight County Press: Ryde Saints doing some socially distanced training at Smallbrook.Ryde Saints doing some socially distanced training at Smallbrook.

Ryde Saints chief, Andy Brown, has been running socially-distanced training sessions for almost a month and welcomed the move.

“It’s brilliant. Our preparation has been good and we’re ready to rock ‘n’ roll,” he said.

Isle of Wight County Press:

The FA’s blueprint for football’s return, backed by the Hampshire FA and the Isle of Wight Divisional FA (IWDFA), is for all clubs to run competitive training in groups of no more than 30 until the end of the month, with pre-season friendlies and tournaments to start from August 1 and leagues and cups to kick-off in September.

Isle of Wight County Press:

However, any return to competitive football will only happen once clubs have completed stringent risk assessments and put comprehensive Covid-19 plans in place for players, staff and facilities.

Isle of Wight County Press:

To ease some of the pressure of having a late start to the season, Hampshire cup competitions will not take place — other than the unplayed finals of last season, including the Intermediate Cup battle between Island rivals Brading Town and Shanklin.

To ensure FA Cup and Vase preliminary qualifiers are completed before the first round proper in November, they will start from September 1 for the Island’s Wessex League clubs — Cowes Sports, Newport and East Cowes Vics.

Isle of Wight County Press:

Vics boss, Richie Woodburn, had mixed feelings about the FA decision.

“I love football and I’m glad we’re starting, but the whole thing seems a bit rushed,” he said.

Clubs have also been advised to keep a record of attendees at a match or training session, including contact details, to support NHS test and trace.

Isle of Wight County Press:

Players, coaches and officials should arrive for a fixture in their kit, then shower at home, as part of the FA guidelines.

“It’s absurd we’re starting in early September, rather than later in the month, in terms of allowing a proper pre-season and making the ground Covid-19 safe,” Richie added.

Isle of Wight County Press:

Newport manager, Andy Sampson had concerns over safety and off-Island travel practicalities, should the season start as planned.

“While everyone’s buzzing to get back playing again, the restrictions would need to allow the game to be played as normal as possible.”

While Wessex clubs could start league games on September 5, a date yet to be confirmed, Island clubs will be hoping the IWDFA put off their start date until later that month.

Isle of Wight County Press:

Shanklin boss, Paul Haward, wants to know, like all local managers, when Island League action is due to start, to assist in his planning.

“It’s the not knowing that’s the hardest part, but I’m glad Hampshire cups are suspended next season, which means there is now no pressure on getting our Intermediate Cup final on too early,” said Paul.

Isle of Wight County Press:

“We want to see a good crowd at the game. We’ve waited 120-odd years for this, so a few more weeks won’t matter.

“I just hope the league starts a bit later now so we can get things right. I don’t want to push the lads too hard, too early with their fitness training schedule.”

Meanwhile, the FA said the resumption of indoor football and futsal remains on hold.