Year of frustration for Manson after taking on Wick management role
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Gary Manson says one word can be used to sum up his first year in charge of Wick Academy – frustration.
Today is the anniversary of his managerial appointment at Harmsworth Park and over that time he has presided over just five competitive matches.
Covid-19 brought the 2019/20 Highland League season to a premature halt in March, and there has been so much disruption to the current campaign – already shortened to a 15-game fixture list for each club – that there are serious doubts over whether it will be completed.
“If I was to summarise the year, probably the overriding emotion is frustration," Manson said. "It has just been so stop-start it has been unbelievable.
"But there are bigger problems in the world and I’m sure it will return to normal sooner rather than later now that the vaccination is coming out. We’ll get a proper run at it next season, hopefully.”
On February 19 last year, Manson and Stewart Ross were named as Academy's management team until the end of the season following the resignation of previous boss Tom McKenna.
After a couple of weather-related postponements, the Scorries played just one match – a 4-1 derby defeat to Brora on March 7 – before the suspension of all football in Scotland.
Looking back to that day at Dudgeon Park, Manson recalls how the pandemic was a looming threat.
“I remember being briefed before that game that we weren’t allowed shaking hands," he said. "That was the first insight into some sort of restrictions, and it just got worse from that."
The season was brought to a close later that month with Brora, the league leaders, being declared champions.
The delayed 2020/21 campaign, with its shortened format, began at the end of November with Covid protocols in place. However, Academy were able to play only two league games and two Scottish Cup ties before the next stoppage.
Scottish football was suspended on January 12 with the exception of the top two divisions, and the latest announcement from the SFA is that all lower leagues will remain on pause until at least next month.
“Five games in a calendar year is quite incredible," said Manson (37), who in July was appointed as Wick’s first-team manager on a long-term deal.
“The next review is March 1 so we’ll know more after that. In terms of whether we can get the season finished then the answer is probably yes – but it would require extending the season into May, I would assume.
“Whether there is scope to go beyond that, I’m not sure. I don’t know how it will pan out this year with the pyramid system and the play-offs.
“It just seems to be dragging on now. I don’t know when their cut-off date is to say ‘that’s enough, we can’t go on now’. There are so many unknowns at the moment.”
Manson admitted he would see little appeal in playing Highland League games with no spectators present.
“It’s not just the financial aspect of it," he said. "When you’re playing football, you want the biggest crowd there that you can get. It’s the same for all players, you want to play in front of big crowds.
"If you’re playing behind closed it’s just not got the same effect – it’s essentially just a training game then."
Manson accepts that if and when the 2020/21 campaign resumes then clubs will have to follow the same Covid protocols as they did before the current suspension.
Spectators were present for both the Scorries' league fixtures so far – at home to Buckie in November and away to Brora in December – as the Highland Council area was in level one of Scotland's five-tier system of coronavirus rules. Aberdeenshire clubs, in level two, were not allowed to have fans in their grounds.
“At the end of the day football is a spectator sport. If you can’t have spectators in the grounds then it’s not the same at all," Manson said.
“You can understand in the professional game there’s a lot of money at stake – there are big sponsors putting a lot of money in, so they kind of have to get their seasons finished."
He added: “If we do get started and finish this season I’d imagine all the restrictions and protocols will still be in place. But hopefully by the time next season comes, Augusttime, we should be in a better place and we’ll get a better crack at it.”
In the meantime, Manson is doing his best to keep the squad fit and focused while they train on their own.
“We’re giving them different running challenges and tasks to do each week," the manager said.
“Obviously last week I just gave them the week off because of the snow and the ice. It just wasn’t possible to get out and do any meaningful runs.
“But we’re back at it this week. It’s going okay, it gives the boys something to do and something to concentrate on.
“Every week I give them at least two specific things to do, whether it’s a certain distance they have to go out on a run or certain running drills that I have them doing on the grass.
“It’s hard to get motivated to go out on runs when you don’t have any light at the end of the tunnel – you don’t know what you’re training for, at the end of the day.
“It’s difficult but they are all doing it and they are all putting the work in and the effort in.”