Hawks hoping Pompey can help them prepare for the National League South play-offs

Hawks were today aiming to find out more about the logistics and costs of taking part in the National League South play-offs.

Monday, 22nd June 2020, 11:49 am
Updated Monday, 22nd June 2020, 11:49 am
'Extremely helpful' - Portsmouth FC Chief Executive Mark Catlin

The club’s board were due to convene at Westleigh Park, where they were hopefully being joined by a member of the Portsmouth FC staff.

Pompey have been planning for the League One play-offs for several weeks now, and are due to stage their home semi-final against Oxford United at Fratton Park on July 3.

By then, Hawks could have brought their own players back off furlough in preparation for their own semi-final just after the middle of next month

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Hawks' Jonah Ayunga and Pompey's Sean Raggett in action during the clubs' annual pre-season friendly last year. The teams could be playing again next month ahead of Hawks' National League South play-off semi-final. Pic: Dave Haines. Hawks v Pompey - Pre-season Friendly, Westleigh Park, Havant England on 10 September 2016. Photo by Dave Haines/Portsmouth News

Hawks director Trevor Brock has spoken to Pompey chief executive Mark Catlin, who ‘has been extremely helpful’ so far.

The non-league club are keen to find what measures the Blues have been taking to make themselves covid safe.

‘We will ask what Pompey have been doing,’ said Brock. ‘Because they are in the EFL, they will have had to do a lot more than we will.

‘But there are basic things which you will have to do whether you’re Pompey or Havant.

Hawks director Trevor Brock

‘I think we will adapt what happens in Pompey’s league.

‘If there is some room for manoeuvre, we will use it. But equally there will be other things that we have to do the same.

‘We will be learning as we go along.

‘I imagine we will speak to EFL clubs and National League clubs and come up with an amalgam of what they are doing.’

Time is of an essence for Hawks and the other 11 clubs who have been invited to take part in the South and North play-offs.

All 12 clubs had a Zoom meeting with National League chief executive Michael Tattersall and other board members last Friday.

They were asked to come up with a detailed plan of what they aim to do in the build-up to games, and on match-days themselves.

Clubs were told to report back to the league as soon as possible, and the league will then either agree to their suggestions or ask for further steps to be taken.

Hawks are aiming to report back to the league by Wednesday.

A sub-committee of the Hawks board has already been set up and spent the weekend organising some of the detail that will need to be presented to the league.

Hawks need to appoint a covid-19 officer, a medical officer and a stadium operations officer. They need to give these names to the league this week. Vice chairman Tim Mellor - who works at QA Hospital - is likely to be the medical officer given his profession.

The club were relieved to be told that players and staff will only need to be tested once a week when they return from furlough - compared to the twice a week that Pompey are testing their players and staff.

Though the cost of a covid test is usually £125, Hawks are confident they can strike a deal to get them cheaper.

They have allowed for 30 tests a week, for the players, management and coaching staff and medical staff. It could be they need to test more, or less, than that number.

Westleigh Park will have to be deep-cleaned, and the club will have to buy all the necessary PPE equipment.

Though their Westleigh pub might reopen on July 4, it will have to close on match-days in a bid to ensure no fans are enticed to the ground.

‘The league made it very clear they don’t want to see any fans in the grounds,’ said Brock.

‘There will be a stewarding cost involved to make sure it doesn’t happen.

‘We are asking our supporters to please stay away.’

Hawks boss Paul Doswell has already made an appeal on social media asking supporters to refrain from trying to access the ground if games are going on.

The provisional dates for the South play-offs are July 18/19 for the quarter-finals (Slough v Dartford, Bath v Dorking) and the following weekend, July 25/26, for the semi-finals (Hawks v Slough or Dartford and Weymouth v Bath or Dorking).

The final is scheduled - again provisionally - for the first weekend of August.

Those dates could change depending on whether BT want to show the games live and what else is on their schedule.

BT, who have a contract to show National League top flight games every week during a normal season, have shown interest in the South and North play-offs - something they have never previously screened.

The provisional weekend given for the play-off semi-finals is the same weekend as the final Premier League games, so BT could ask the league to change those dates.

There is normally a cash bonus for having a National League game screened on BT - the home club banks £6,000 and the away club £2,000. It is not yet known whether those fees will apply in the South and North play-offs.

‘Hopefully the games will be on BT or we will be able to stream them,’ said Brock. ‘We want our fans to be able to watch the games, but not at the ground.’

The league have said that no new signings will be allowed - hence squads must basically be as they were on March 14 when matches were last played.

Hawks have since sold striker Alfie Rutherford to play-off rivals Dorking, though he cannot play for his new club until the 2020/21 season starts.

Doswell had two loan players at Westleigh Park when the pandemic struck - Millwall defender Junior Tiensia and Watford goalkeeper Adam Parkers.

Hawks could recall both players - if the pair wanted to come back and their parent clubs were happy for them to do so - should they wish.

It is possible the league will allow clubs special dispensation to sign a new goalkeeper if, for whatever reason, a club was left with no shot-stoppers due to covid or injury.

If any player was to have a positive covid test, they will automatically be told to stay away from the rest of the squad for seven days.

Hawks are expected to bring their players back off furlough for three weeks leading up to the play-off semi-final, potentially starting this time next week.

The first week would be non-contact training, in line with the government’s Return to Elite Sport guidelines, with full contact training starting in week two.

Actual matches could be played in the third week. Hawks are looking to play at least one friendly - with Pompey an obvious choice if the Blues are also keen.

If Hawks reach the final, they will be paying a month’s wages - around £28,000 in total - to the players.

‘We will bring the players back for the maximum time we can afford,’ declared Brock.

The club will then have to decide whether to keep the players back. If they do win promotion, the 2020/21 National League season could well start six weeks after the play-off final.

The league, meanwhile, are determined to ensure the only people in the stadiums on matchdays are those that have a specific role.

‘Everyone allowed in the stadium will be there because they have a legitimate job to do. If you haven’t, you won’t get in,’ Brock confirmed.

‘It was mentioned that only four officials from the visiting club couldl be allowed. If we went away we’d normally take 12.

‘But I stress this was just a scoping meeting to discuss things, nothing is set in stone yet.’

Hawks must also contact Hampshire County Council’s Safety Advisory Group, and Havant Borough Council, regarding their matchday plans.

All grounds in the play-offs will have three designated ‘zones’ on matchdays with the red zone the most important, covering the pitch, pitchside, tunnel and dressing room areas.

That mirrors the Premier League’s red zone, with the top flight also having a green zone (outside area including car parks) and an amber zone (other stadium interior areas, including the media section). In the top flight, everyone entering the amber zone has to have their temperature taken before they are admitted.

It is not yet known whether the National League’s zones will cover the same areas as the Premier League ones.

There will be media allowed into Westleigh Park, but no maximum numbers have been given.

Whether photographers, who sit next to the pitch and therefore are in the red zone, need to be covid tested is another question not yet answered.

Hawks have already received 15 media enquiries - including from photographers - to cover games at Westleigh Park.

The league have also said there will be no media interviews after games, though they have been allowed in the professional games that have taken place since the Premier League returned to action last Wednesday.