Chris Rowley: ‘The first game back in front of the West fans will be a special day’

Last season ended prematurely and we still don’t know when the new season will kick-off, but that hasn’t stopped Chris Rowley from making sure his team isn’t prepared for when it does and football returns to The Step Places Stadium. With a slightly unusual pre-season now underway, we caught up with Chris to find out what he got up to during lockdown, how he’s adjusted to the new “normal” and what we can all look forward to from his team during the upcoming season…

Hi Chris, thanks for speaking with us. Tell us what you’ve been up to during lockdown since the season came to a halt and was then cancelled? 

Yes, the season came to a conclusion very fast and at the same time the school I work at, as they all did, closed. This left me with a lot of free time so I’ve re-designed my garden, gone on lots of walks with my family and obviously home schooled my kids. It was really nice at the start of lockdown, the weather was beautiful and with the kids off school spent a lot of time outdoors.

With what was and still is happening in the world, were you, your staff and the players surprised at all when the season ended prematurely? 

If I’m honest, no. I don’t think any of us were surprised that the season ended when it did. The biggest surprise is perhaps how long it has been going on for and the fact that we still don’t know when we will be back playing competitive football.

For someone who’s always been involved in the game, how was it adjusting to those first few weeks of no football? 

The first few weeks were OK, as it felt just as it would do at the end of the season where we have a little bit of time off. It’s actually been the latter weeks that have been the most difficult. Nobody in the football world is used to this much time away from the game, so it’s been nice the last couple of weeks to get back in with the lads to do a little bit of training.

Looking ahead to next season and with no date yet set for when we’ll kick off again, what are the challenges you’re facing to prepare your team for pre-season? 

Obviously with no start date set we have to prepare in some ways for when that date is given to us, that’s why we started back training last week. We have gone with once a week to start with, to get that social side with the lads back and to start some work on general fitness. To be fair, most of the lads have come back in fitter than they left having been only able to go running during lockdown, so that’s been a great bench mark.

Fan favourite Bagsy recently announced his departure from West. What can we expect the make-up of the squad to look like come the start of the season? 

Mid-way through lockdown I contacted everyone in squad and had good conversations with most about the new season. The plan was that all of last years’ squad would return to pre-season with the inclusion of a few new faces and trialists. During lockdown some have been approached by other clubs and some have decided to move on; others have decided to stay and continue the journey we are on at West and want to see the club gain promotion when the new season starts.

What are you looking forward to most about football returning?

I’m personally looking forward to being back out on the training pitch with the lads (being able to train properly!) and preparing for what will be a very exciting new season. But what goes hand-in-hand with preparing for games is the actual match day itself and obviously that first game back at The Step Places Stadium in front of the amazing West fans will be a special day.

What’s the ambition for the next season? Promotion back to the NWCFL Premier Division? 

100%! As a squad we have already spoken about personal and team targets, but the one at the top of every players list is winning the league. Obviously we expect The FA to confirm it will the top four that go up at the end of the season and there will be a lot of clubs, just like last season, that will fancy their chances. We fully believe though that we have the squad to match anyone in the league and will be going into every game fully confident of getting three points.

What message can you send to our fans as we all wait to find out when football will return to The Step Places Stadium?

It’s been a long time coming, and we still don’t have that magical date of when we can return to playing, but when we do I can promise you that the management and team will be ready – games that will be memorable for individual performances, team performances and moments of pure brilliance. But in the meantime stay safe, and I look forward to that first can of Krombacher with you all.

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