Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

COVID-19 AND THE IMPACT ON NON-LEAGUE SIDE HAMPTON AND RICHMOND BOROUGH FC

Posted on 4 April 2020 by Thomas Clark
An empty Beveree Stadium. Photo courtesy of HRBFC

Saturday 4 April 2020, Wealdston v Hampton and Richmond Borough, an away win could see the Beavers enter the play-off positions with five games left to play. 

This was the opening paragraph I would have written to a match preview in normal times.

But this is far from normality.

A regular Saturday

Matchday would usually see manager Gary McCann pull up in his black cab, set aside the day job and get into Gaffer mode.

Captain Luke Ruddick would lead his side out for a warm up, greeting family and friends on his way.

And one of the nicest men in football Sam Cox would stop and chat to anyone who crossed his path, for now our conversations will have to be on the phone.

Win, lose or draw, the players always head into the bar post-game and chat with the fans. Supporters become friends, team-mates like family and right now that takes precedence over football.

And Ruddick agrees: “You just need to look at the news to see what the NHS staff are going through, it puts things into perspective really.”

“At the end of the day the health and welfare of everyone in our country is obviously much more important [than football],” added Ruddick.

Beavers captain Luke Ruddick preparing to lead out his side. Picture courtesy of Luke Ruddick

The unity at the club is obvious, Guyana captain and Beavers midfielder Cox said: “First and foremost, I’d just like to send my regards, well wishes, blessings and love to everybody that’s associated with Hampton and Richmond Borough Football Club and anybody who’s reading this out there.”

This was an unprompted message from Cox, and before any questions were asked of him he wanted to know how I was, how my family were and to share his thoughts for others.

Cox leading the way in avoiding contact. Picture by Jed Leicester, courtesy of Sam Cox

Cox has seen a lot in his footballing career, from the Tottenham Hotspur substitutes bench to playing in the National League South, via captaining Guyana the country of his Grandmother’s birth, his selflessness has been present throughout. 

This was later confirmed when Cox mentioned that his day job as a football coach at the Tottenham Hotspur academy is as a zero hour contract worker so he does not currently have an income. 

Yet his thoughts were only for others, not himself.

When football returns

There has been a lot of debate about when football should resume, whether it will be a continuation of the current season or voiding this one and starting afresh.

McCann has not had anything confirmed from the league authorities and said that with nothing decided, he will do his best with his coaching team throughout the current situation, and be ready to return in whatever guise necessary.

“I don’t feel the season will resume and that makes plans and preparations very difficult,” said McCann.

Manager Gary McCann issuing instructions to his team. Picture courtesy of HRBFC

“There are only one or two teams that are full-time in our division. The rest do have jobs outside football, and the logistics of trying to get players fit and back up and running and pick the season up where we have left off, maybe eight weeks down the line, logistically just doesn’t work for me,” added McCann.

Keeping fit and active

The players are doing their best to maintain fitness while training has been cancelled, with Cox turning his living room into a home gym to keep himself busy.

“I’ve got the weights, the free weights, a pull up bar and some dumbbells,” said Cox.

“Physically I’m ticking over and also running everyday, training, doing ball work [in the garden] so in fact, I’m probably doing more training than I did during the season. 

“I’m always someone that’s gonna tick over and that has been grounded in me from when I was a child by my Mum and Dad. 

“You know, I’ve got to stay fit. I’ve got to look after my body, and I’ll ensure that when we do go back, which we will, I will be in good condition.”

Ruddick in action for Hampton. Picture courtesy of Luke Ruddick.

For Ruddick as a builder, a lot of his strength and fitness comes from work, a job he can no longer do for the time being.

Ruddick did let slip something he would rather the Gaffer did not hear though: “The majority of lads will keep ticking over but there will be a few, including myself, that won’t be able to stop eating and drinking.”

The skipper quickly added: “We do have a great management team around us that can help, especially with Mark Findley our physio, who in my opinion is the best physio in non-league football, he can give advice and training ideas daily if required so we are lucky to have him at the club.”

However, Ruddick won’t be able to take it too easy at home: “I’ve got a two year old full of beans who will get me proper at it while I’m off work, so that will help keep me fit. Also luckily, for fitness reasons, the pubs and restaurants are shut so that will help me out massively!”

Finance, mental health and teammates

Helping out football clubs will not be the first priority for the Government at the moment, and nor should it be, but it is an issue they will need to address at some stage.

Football clubs are often at the heart of the community, Hampton hold collections for the local food bank at all match-days at The Beveree, they have even managed to continue their efforts through these difficult times. 

There is an academy for children aged between 5 and 18, a ladies team and a pan-disability side. 

The club as well as the players will need financial help to keep going.

Hampton and Richmond Borough’s match day foodbank collection in full swing. Picture courtesy of HRBFC

McCann said: “These really are unprecedented times, and the financial implications of all football clubs is a real concern.

“I’ve had different discussions with Jacques [Le Bars, Hampton Chairman], and we’re hoping that there will be some help from the government, and also some help from the National League and FA.”

Ruddick said: “From a financial standpoint it is something that will need to be resolved, but at this moment it is not in our immediate thinking as health, and staying clear of this virus is the priority for everyone. 

“At the end of the day it’s for the National League, the governing bodies and our board to deal with as to where we go from here. The gaffer is keeping us in the loop with everything and I’m sure the board and the Chairman will be doing all they can for the club and for us the players.”

Ruddick and Cox spoke about how all the players and staff are staying in touch via WhatsApp and that team spirit was high. 

Cox said: “We’re always checking in on each other, to see that we are all healthy and that our families are doing alright.”

“Mentally it is tough, not just for football players, but for everybody that is going through this together,” added Cox.

Cox celebrates a goal with his teammates. Picture courtesy of HRBFC

Thinking of others before themselves

I have covered Hampton for most of this season, and have built up relationships with Gary, Luke and Sam amongst others. 

However, there is always a closeness that only comes through the bond of winning, losing and battling together as a team.

From a last minute winner against Maidstone, to coming from behind and rescuing a point at home to Oxford City after Ruddick’s red card. 

These moments bring the players and staff together, yet each time I contacted them, all three of them instantly asked after me, my family and wanted to know how I was getting on.

Like most people, McCann, Ruddick and Cox, have been hit financially, professionally and personally through this pandemic, yet all show compassion and care for others over themselves.

The Beveree in all its glory. Picture courtesy of HRBFC

The Beavers had a great shot at promotion through the play-offs this season, however, all three spoke only about football being secondary right now and how they wish everyone and their families good health.

As Ruddick said: “To all the players, staff and everyone connected to the football club, I hope you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy through this tough period and I cannot wait to see you all again at the Bev!”