FA Cup qualifying: How the coronavirus pandemic has impacted non-league clubs1 September 2020
How do you prepare for an FA Cup tie when opponents will not play against you for fear you will give them coronavirus?
That is the problem non-league Leicester Nirvana, who are based in the city which was put in local lockdown after a spike in Covid-19 cases, have faced.
According to Nirvana's chairman Zak Hajat, two clubs pulled out of friendlies leading up to Tuesday's FA Cup extra preliminary round home tie with Oadby Town because they "didn't want to travel to Leicester or play a team from Leicester".
He said both matches - one to be played at a neutral venue in Leicester with the other outside the city - were verbally agreed after restrictions in Leicester were eased.
"In one case both managers agreed the match but the chairman of the other team said 'no, we're not having a team from Leicester come to our ground'," said Hajat.
"I've got an email from another team that says 'our management and committee don't want to come to play in Leicester because of local lockdown and Covid-19 reasons'.
"We tried to explain lockdown restrictions have been eased.
"I don't want to name the two clubs but they must think we have all got Covid-19.
"It's disappointing when you have organised the games, put things in place and at a drop of a hat they say 'we're not playing you'."
Nirvana, from the ninth-tier United Counties League Premier Division, is a community club based in the Hamilton district of the East Midlands city with players from more than 40 nationalities representing them through their many youth teams to the first team.
They have played four friendlies since being allowed to return to training last month, with no positive tests for coronavirus among the team, said Hajat.
With 182 ties due to take place in front of spectators this week, Nirvana are not the only non-league team who have encountered problems before the start of FA Cup qualifying.
|Round||Date||Winners receive||Losers receive|
|Extra preliminary round||1 September||£1,125||£375|
|Preliminary round||12 September||£1,444||£481|
|First qualifying||22 September||£2,250||£750|
|Second qualifying||3 October||£3,375||£1,125|
|Third qualifying||13 October||£5,625||£1,875|
|Fourth qualifying||24 October||£9,375||£3,125|
'A pain in the backside'
When one of their players announced on 12 August - three weeks before the start of FA Cup qualifying - he had tested positive for coronavirus, Charnock Richard went into lockdown.
Having only recently returned to training after four months of inactivity, the Lancashire club, a thriving community hub near Chorley, ceased all football activity.
Three friendlies aimed at shaking off rustiness before their cup trip to South Yorkshire to face Athersley Recreation were scrapped and players told to train on their own.
"The last few months have been a complete pain in the backside," Shaun Tootell, chairman of ninth-tier Charnock Richard, said.
The North West Counties League Premier Division club have not named the player who announced he had tested positive the day after a pre-season friendly with Chorley.
"He had taken a test on the day of the match, which we didn't know about, and then played the full 90 minutes," added Tootell.
"It was only the next day he discovered the result of the test. He was shocked because he had no symptoms and had only taken the test for work reasons.
"We didn't know what surfaces he touched in the dressing room. We couldn't risk bringing the squad back together in case others picked up the virus.
"We're not the first club this has happened to and we won't be the last."
'Will everyone follow the guidance?'
It's been almost seven months since Oldham-based Avro hosted a competitive match on their 3G pitch.
The town has been subject to stricter new measures designed to stop the spread of coronavirus but Avro's home tie with Bootle on Wednesday is going ahead with a limited capacity of 300.
"I'm excited but also nervous," said chairman Rob Fuller. "Will everyone follow the guidelines?
"You drive past one pub and everyone seems to be adhering to the guidelines then you drive to the next one and there appears to be no guidelines in place.
"As quickly as they are allowing fans back into grounds, we're being told it can stop straight away if people don't follow the guidelines.
"We have to accept this is how it's going to be. The alternative is to knock it on the head and don't have any sport. That would end lots of clubs."
Team talks on pitch - the new normal
There are 364 teams taking part in the FA Cup extra preliminary round - the first of 13 hurdles before the final on 15 May 2021.
With social distancing rules and special measures in place to welcome back fans, it will be a different experience for players and supporters.
At Leicester Nirvana, the managers will conduct their pre-match and half-time team talks on the pitch.
"If you have 20 people in a changing room for a team talk you cannot socially distance," added Hajat.
"We might have to hide around the corner so Oadby Town's players can't hear our team talk!"
Over at Charnock Richard, post-match food for players is off the menu for the foreseeable future.
"We make an effort with our food and spend anywhere between £50 and £100 each home game on things like pies, chips and pasta for both teams," added Tootell.
"The reason we're not doing it right now is we're trying to discourage 20 or 30 people descending on the clubhouse all at once due to social distancing."
Avro, who play at the 1,500-capacity Vestacare Stadium, will cut seating in their stand from 200 to around 135, while only six players will be allowed in each dressing room at any one time.
"It's going to be strange," added Fuller.
"The camaraderie is one of the best things about non-league, meeting other directors and having a pint with them.
"Unfortunately that's on hold at the moment. We have got to do our bit."