20 June 2020 10:33
AS he took part in his first virtual pre-match press conference via Zoom yesterday afternoon, Jonathan Woodgate was asked what he had learned during the last three months of lockdown. "How to make butterfly cakes," he replied. Strange times indeed. Like the rest of the world, Woodgate has had to come to terms with a new reality in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. True, his status as a football manager means he is in a privileged position.
But as the nation locked down and strict restrictions were placed on everybody's movements, he found himself wrestling with the same dilemmas as most other people in the country. "It's been different," laughed Woodgate. "I've been at home with the kids and wife, and we've been doing cooking classes. I've tried to do a bit of home schooling too, which wasn't easy. Those teachers deserve a medal with what they put up with the kids! "I was wanting to get back to football as soon as possible, but you make a negative into a positive and get on with it. I've enjoyed the chance to spend some good quality time with my kids. When am I going to get two or three months with my kids, day in, day out? "I've been able to have breakfast, lunch and tea with them, and that's something I can never normally do. It's something I've enjoyed. I've had the kids in the gym doing different running sessions, and I was taking them out for walks when you were allowed to have the hour's break." As lockdown began to ease though, so Woodgate's life began to turn back to football. At first, he was one of the few people allowed back into Rockliffe Park. Then, the club's players returned, but were unable to take part in group training sessions because of social distancing. Eventually, full-contact training was permitted, and there will be another step towards something approaching normality tomorrow when Boro host Swansea City at the Riverside. There will only be around 300 people in the ground, but at least competitive football is returning. "The lads couldn't wait to get back in the first few days, but we had to social distance so they had to remain apart," said Woodgate. "It was like that for about ten days, but it's been different since we were able to train fully and I'm sure the lads will be looking forward to the first game. Footballers love playing football. It'll be a case of, 'Bring on the first game'." Understandably, there was a degree of apprehension when players first returned to the training ground. Would they be safe? How would the testing programme work? What would happen if someone tested positive? A month or so on, and the fears have been allayed. Boro's players and coaches are tested for coronavirus at least twice a week, and a series of strict regulations will be in place when they turn up at the Riverside tomorrow. "At the start it was difficult, but now it's the new norm," said Woodgate. "We're accustomed to it now. We get tested twice a week, and we know the protocols. At the minute, we're all getting on with it and it's become quite easy. "I'd say they were maybe a bit anxious at first, but at the minute there's absolutely no problems at all. They're all getting on with it. We've done eight to ten tests so it's normality for us now." Playing behind-closed-doors is also the new norm, but Woodgate insists the fans will not be forgotten when his players return to action this weekend. "In a perfect world, the fans would be at the Riverside," he said. "But laws say we can't do that. There's a streaming service, and I'm sure there'll be a few houses going crazy on Saturday. Hopefully, we'll get the win for them."