Hanley Town’s players end their month-long absence from match action tomorrow – and have the good of the club at the forefront of their minds.
The non-league scene was temporarily shut down in November as part of the Government’s coronavirus restrictions.
However, grassroots football has been given the go-ahead from this weekend, which means a return for Hanley – but just not in the league.
The North West Counties League have decided to push back their resumption until at least December 19 after a significant number of clubs were placed in Tier Three, which means no fans can attend games.
But Hanley will play tomorrow as they welcome Loughborough University to Potteries Park for a second round FA Vase tie.
They were due to play Deeping Rangers, but the Lincolnshire side have withdrawn from the competition, allowing Hanley to advance to the second round.
With the whole of Staffordshire being under the severest restrictions, the game is being played behind closed doors, leaving Hanley with no matchday revenue.
Manager Micky Morton has revealed that his players will turn out without any payment in order to bring football back.
“In the last month we don’t know whether we’ve been coming or going,” said Morton.
“The lads are eager to get back and play in the FA Vase. We want to do it because the other option would be to pull out, which we don’t want to do.
“I’ve spoken to the players and, given the financial side with no fans being allowed, they have said they will play for free. It’s usually just travel expenses they receive, and although everyone has a budget, it’s not like last season. We can’t generate money through the gate at the moment, so it’s a great gesture by the players.
“It shows we have a group of players who are all good mates, have gelled and are showing a great spirit.”
Morton was overseeing training last night for the first time for a month – and admitted it was great to get back.
And that generates a selection headache for the boss, with his squad all eager to be involved in competitive action once again.
“We don’t have players on contract, so you can’t force them to train on their own, but they have done their work,” added Morton.
“No-one likes running really, but running after a ball is a bit different.
“We’ve had little competitions on Zoom to try to mix it up and the physio held a virtual circuit session as well. Training again would just be about getting them back on the ball and in to the swing of things once again.”
Hanley will be hoping to pick up where they left off tomorrow.
They find themselves in third place in the NWCL Premier Division – and also enjoyed a good FA Cup run before being knocked out by Ilkeston Town.
Tomorrow’s opponents Loughborough University play in the United Counties League, and are in second place in the table. It’s interesting with a university side because they could have a really strong team,” explained Morton.
“We don’t really know a great deal about them – and sometimes that can do you a favour. Hopefully we can start off on the right foot. We’ve done well in the competitions so far this season.”
Morton has seen Josh Bristow and Luke Lewis depart for Abbey Hulton, but he is still left with a strong squad.
So strong, in fact, that former Stoke City striker Ricardo Fuller wasn’t able to force his way on to the bench before the November halt.
“Ric has not played since the FA Cup,” said Morton. “He’s still with us, but he had to self-isolate for a time and when he wasn’t available we were winning.
“I have to say true to myself. He might be Ricardo Fuller and played in the Premier League, but if the team is winning, I can’t really change it.
“Ric was there for the last game before we stopped, against Irlam, and he was encouraging the lads, so he’s still very much part of the squad.”
Congleton Town, Stone Old Alleynians and Abbey Hulton United are all also in FA Vase action tomorrow. Congleton are at home against New Mills, Stone OA travel to Long Eaton, and Abbey Hulton United visit Coventry United.