Reporter Daniel Luker finds out how Harlow Town Ladies Football Club has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Club manager Dean Perrett speaks on struggles in lockdown and social media manager Joe Barker tells us how important his job has been during the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a very difficult time for everyone involved at Harlow Ladies Football Club.
Harlow Ladies play in the Eastern Region Women’s Football League. However, the club’s past two seasons (19/20 and 20/21) were both declared null and void. This meant that the season was cancelled and there were no promotions or relegations from the league.
The first season was cancelled when the pandemic hit in early 2020, the club only had six games left in the season and fans were not happy. The second season was cancelled near the beginning, meaning there was still a lot to play for so it was a lot more understandable for fans.
Harlow Town Ladies Manager Dean Perrett said: “To be honest, it has affected us quite badly. The first season, which got null and void, we had a brilliant season; we signed some very good players, and we had the strongest squad since I have been at the club.
“We were 6 points clear with only 6 games left. We still had to play Luton and Peterborough in that, but we were in a very good position to get promoted into the national league, which is the goal we set ourselves two or three years ago. I know we’ve been in two lockdowns since then but to make that decision so quickly that it was going to be null and voided with 6 games to go. We all trained mid-week so what’s the difference in playing a match in the midweek. I’m sure it could’ve got done.
“So, it gave us a chance to regroup, we kept most of the same squad. We then signed a couple more players from higher up in the League like Ellie Manning and Shannon Maloney and people like that who have been playing higher up. So, it strengthened the squad, and then we got going again for this season.
“This season there were a lot more games to play, it would’ve been difficult to extend it again and again because they want a full season. So, they’ve probably done the right thing this time around. Despite the cancellations, I haven’t stopped because during the lockdown we were always talking, always planning, always trying to keep the girls fit with strength and conditioning on zoom calls and setting them targets to do.”
Throughout lockdown, many clubs have struggled to connect with their fans. However, it has been very different at Harlow Ladies.
The Harlow Ladies twitter page has increased by over a thousand followers in the past year. The club started to post highlight videos, from the VEO (a camera that follows the movement of the ball), players got their own sponsorship, so if the club included their sponsorship in the photos posted for them. This allowed the players to play without being paid by the club. They also did goal and player of the month/season voting which is very popular on social media at the top of the game.
Harlow Town Ladies secretary and social media and sponsorship manager Joe Barker said: “It’s been challenging, a bit of a rollercoaster from a media perspective. We went through a period of building the social media profiles up, we’ve got our Twitter page up an extra thousand followers. We had to be quite innovative and kept fans engaged during the low points when there were no games. We also try to help people’s mental health, as football is a big release for a lot of people. A lot of planning went into it to make this happen.”
Dean said: “It got us a bigger and wider audience and then all of a sudden, they want to come and watch you play. So, our attendances got bigger and bigger, in the FA cup games we started getting a hundred, two hundred people which is brilliant.”
Things are now looking a lot better for the club and grassroots football in general. Lockdown restrictions have been lifted, meaning outdoor sports have been able to continue, meaning all grassroots football was able to continue from March 28th.
The team has been taking part in The Eastern Region Women’s football league challenge cup.
Dean said: “It’s like a Champions League-based thing where its four groups of five and the top team go up into the semi-finals and a final day. So, it’s exciting, the girls are excited, it’s good to see them back. They’ve trained hard, they’ve all come back looking very fit and healthy and no effects from COVID or anything like that for them, so it’s been brilliant.
“We’ve knuckled down, we’ve had a couple of good training sessions just getting them back into it, not fitness based or anything like that and we had our first game last week against Wodson Park, who are in the league below us. Although it took us a little while to get going in the first half, in the second half we started to gel. It was a good 7-0 win in the end, with some very good play and some very good goals.”
Fans were allowed back into the stadium for this game. This comes as a massive boost to the club as ticket, merchandise, and refreshment sales are very important to a football club financially
Dean Perrett said: “It will be brilliant when they’re back, not just for the ladies section but the men’s and the youth and things like that.”
PHOTO: Harlow Ladies Manager Dean Perrett (right) and his son and coach Joe Perrett (left).