Dave Seddon’s Preston North End Press View: The long wait is over at last!

Back in March as a halt was called to the football season, I recall a remark I made to my wife and children.

Saturday, 20th June 2020, 8:00 am

“It looks like you’ve got me at home for the next couple of weekends,” I said, as games were postponed for the rest of that month.

Mrs Seddon didn’t seem that impressed, neither in fact did the kids, at the fact I would be getting under their feet instead of sitting in a press box somewhere.

The prediction of a couple of weekends off was a big underestimation on my part – it was 14 in the end.

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Up to five substitutions will be allowed in three blocks when North End take on Luton Town on Saturday

Championship football comes out of its lockdown this weekend and into a period of parole.

It will be scrutinised both by supporters and those who want to see how professional sport copes, as society slowly finds its feet after a testing few months.

For me, it means a return to the press box to cover Preston North End’s fortunes over the remaining nine games of the season and, fingers crossed, three more in the play-offs.

I’m lucky in that respect, something I will quickly acknowledge.

Football for now is a television-only sport for many, I’m one of the few who can have access to the ground to cover games.

Never did I imagine that in my journalistic career I’d be covering professional football matches played behind closed doors.

The only company will be other members of the press and media – numbers are restricted – together with the staff and officials needed to ensure things run smoothly.

I’m looking forward to being back out there covering games, a change of scene after three months keeping tabs on North End from my dining room table.

However, said dining room table – shared with she who must be obeyed – will continue to be the weekday ‘office’.

This won’t be a golden era of football – far from it, more a means to an end to get the season finished and then look at things again.

Hopefully the next stage of the planning for the future will involve how to get fans safely back into stadiums as quickly as possible.

It will be interesting to see what standard the games are played to.

Players at all clubs will give it their maximum, their fitness levels are bound to be good after the enforced break and all the work they did at home during it.

But you do wonder what the intensity will be like and whether the empty seats and stands will have an affect.

We know that players are driven by crowds, they are entertainers.

Will the extra bite in a tackle be there if there are no fans willing them on?

What will it be like for a player celebrating scoring a goal with no fans to run to and knee-slide in front of?

Over the last few weeks I have interviewed a number of the PNE squad and they all spoke at length about the prospect of behind-closed-doors football.

‘Strange’ was the word they all seemed to use when the topic was discussed.

They had been keen to get back training and playing but knew the matchday environment they’d be experiencing would be a huge change from the norm.

On television and in the press, there has been the big build-up and ‘football back’ slogans.

It hasn’t matched the excitement by a long way of a new season starting.

Instead, the feeling is more one of relief that the return of the season is a small step towards a semblance of normality in our lives amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Health, the economy, getting the kids back to school are things far higher on the scale of importance.

But being able to sit down, turn the television or laptop on and see a game of football will be a nice distraction.

For reporters like myself covering games, things will be a lot different inside the stadiums.

There will be temperature checks before you go in, and face masks have to be worn.

In the press box there will be social distancing with many of the seats not in use.

Post-match press conferences are being done via Zoom – managers and players sitting in another part of the ground to answer the questions.

It’s amazing how quickly Zoom has become an accepted ‘norm’ and I must say that players have seemed a lot more relaxed being interviewed that way rather than in the traditional press conference setting.

Maybe that is the future. However, being able to chat with someone in the same room is something we all yearn for in whatever walk of life we are in.

For North End, these next few weeks go far beyond the need to dust the boots off and get the season finished.

They have a play-off place to chase and are looking to finish in the top six at this level for the first time since 2009. A number of clubs have the same aim, with them bunched up behind Alex Neil’s table in the table.

Six wins from nine would take PNE to 74 points, a tally which would probably suffice. Add a draw to that and 75 should be enough.

They need to hit the ground running after losing three games in a row leading up to the season being paused. Although that was a long time ago,they need to get off that form dip.

At Thursday’s press conference Neil said this was like starting a new season, such was the gap since they had last played.

He described it as a ‘nine-game mini shoot-out’ and there will be a different feel about it than the 37 matches which went before it.

Something which interests me about the resumption is the option to use five substitutes.

It will be a chance to make tactical changes as well as the obvious need to give players a breather after the long lay-off.

To ensure the flow of a game isn’t impeded, those five changes can only be made at three points.

Let us hope this season passes smoothly and what we are seeing currently is only temporary in the history of the beautiful game.