Western Morning News

Johnson is hopeful of positive future for Gulls

Torquay boss working with club’s chief executive on plans after league cancelled

- RICHARD HUGHES richard.hughes@reachplc.com

TORQUAY United manager Gary Johnson and the club’s chief executive George Edwards held a conference call yesterday to discuss plans going forward after the National League cancelled the season yesterday following a poll of its member clubs.

Johnson is disappoint­ed that the 2019-20 season will now not be played to its conclusion and he is awaiting further news about promotion and relegation issues. But the manager also knows the bigger picture is the threat of the coronaviru­s to people’s lives, with football a side issue right now.

Johnson said: “I’m very disappoint­ed but it is a decision that we half expected and we have been discussing all the scenarios available to us.

“A lot of clubs didn’t feel they could vote because they didn’t really know what they were actually voting for. It’s the next vote that decides on whether there is a ‘null and void’ or promotions and relegation­s.”

Torquay were 15th in the National League table when the season was suspended in mid-March, but with ten games still to play, and only ten points to make up for a place in the play-offs, there was still hope that the Gulls could finish the season on a high – especially considerin­g they had three games in hand on two of the teams above them, and two or one on all the others, apart from 11th-placed Barnet, who have played one games less.

It is that ‘hope’ that Johnson feels has been taken away from so many. He said: “I think there is a bigger thing that we have all got to think about, which is obviously the pandemic, the coronaviru­s, and I know that the season could have only been played when it was safe for everybody.

“But I feel that we have lost the hope for our supporters and players all over the country – the hope that if it gets cleared up then we can start playing. If the coronaviru­s does get cleared up and we could have played in July then it will be disappoint­ing that we didn’t finish the season.”

Johnson continued: “Myself and George Edwards sort of anticipate­d that this situation may happen and we have been having discussion­s – but now we know for sure that we have got the first part of the complicati­on over, with this statement that the National League have made.

“George has always been positive right through it, as far as ‘we’ll get through it whatever happens’ – but obviously it is how you get through it.”

One question that will have to be answered is, what happens to players’ contracts? The players and staff are currently furloughed on the Government job retention scheme, but some players will be out of contract on May 2, while a handful have deals that run until next year.

Johnson said: “We need to keep as many people as we can who are at the club because they are all good people. So it is a bit precarious for players at the moment, they don’t know where their future is, and whether there is going to be any money coming in – that sort of stuff.

“The Government have done their job, but unfortunat­ely the vote has taken away the players’ opportunit­y to do their job.”

With the Government suggesting that social distancing restrictio­ns may not be completely lifted until the other side of Christmas, there is

also the possibilit­y that the new season could be affected, too.

The EFL has already said it hopes its three divisions will begin again in June – but behind closed doors. Does Johnson think ‘behind closed doors’ will happen for the National League at the start of next season?

He said: “Everything is guesswork at the moment. We can’t predict [what the coronaviru­s is going to do] and we don’t know. Some are saying it could be next year. There are lots of people speculatin­g and when you listen to the scientists, nobody knows. If the scientists don’t know then obviously we don’t know.

“But what I am disappoint­ed with is, I wanted all along to be aligned with the EFL and be part of their decisions – not the National League making a decision for us outside of the Football League.”

League Two has been operating one-team short since Bury went out of business last year, so it seems likely that National League leaders Barrow, who were four points clear when the season was suspended, will go up.

Johnson said: “So whether that complicate­s things? Well, it will. If our league decided that there wouldn’t be any promotion and relegation, and the EFL ends up playing and they have relegation­s – who goes up?

“I just think it was a great opportunit­y for our National League to get a little bit closer to the EFL. So we are disappoint­ed that people have voted not to do that – and that we were actually given the vote. Why were we put in that situation so early? For me it has just taken the hope away.

“I always think you need that hope and if the pandemic goes on and it is still not possible to put players together and crowds together then so be it. We will all hold our hands up and say, ‘well, we gave it a good go, but we are still fighting this virus’.

“But people are trying so hard to get a solution and finish the coronaviru­s, with people talking every day about the figures coming slightly down. Well, that sort of thing gives you hope when you hear all that.”

He added: “We know football will come back eventually. We have got to be of the mind that we have got to look after our football family – whether that be our supporters, players, or whoever.

“I know so far the club has tried to do its best and we will have to see what we do going forward. I have every confidence in our club that we’ll sort it out and we will be ready for when we do get to play.”

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> Gary Johnson

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