Evan Seaman chats to Ilkley manager Simon Armstrong about how they helped to improve the club during lockdown and the team's promotion chances next campaign.

Your Ilkley side has begun preparations ahead of the new
2020/21 season. Are you looking forward to getting back to the pitch following
last campaign’s abrupt ending?

‘We certainly are. It’s been a surreal and difficult time for everyone, so to return to something resembling
normality is a welcome relief. Last season was full of real promise when it
abruptly ended so there is a real feeling of unfinished business within the
group.’ 

Has this long break given you, as the manager, time to work
on anything to help improve the club?

‘We’ve been working hard during lockdown to improve the club. First and foremost, our priority is to the mental
and physical wellbeing of our players so we supported them as much as we could
through the lockdown period. It also gave us the opportunity to review last
season in real detail, identify areas we can improve and also recruit personnel
in key areas that can contribute both on and off the pitch. Our facilities have
once again improved with our new changing and referees’ rooms and a player only
access to the pitch. Planning permission has also been submitted for a 300-seater
stand a refreshment/hospitality area, so we continue to develop as a club.’ 

Will we see a change in how things are run on matchday with
Covid-19 still in general circulation?

‘Of course. We have a COVID-19 officer and a completed risk assessment. This in turn has led to specific club
guidance for all players, coaches, supporters & parents on what to expect
and what will be necessary. We’re fortunate in many respects as we have a
controlled environment with a clear entrance and exit so it certainly makes
things a little easier.’ 

Are excited about what your team’s promotion chances next
season?

‘We’re at the start of a new season and at this stage the task is to ensure the squad has real depth and is
extremely competitive. We’re pleased with our new additions and hopeful of
making possibly one more before the season starts. The West Yorkshire Premier
Division, in my opinion, is one of the strongest step 7 leagues in the country
and nothing can be taken for granted. There are some very strong sides, all of
whom will be looking to improve. Our emphasis has to be on ourselves and
ensuring we’re together as a group, completely committed to the task ahead and willing
to work incredibly hard throughout the season. If we do that then, with the
quality we have in the group, anything is possible.’ 

So far in pre-season you have won both of your first two
friendlies. Does this give you momentum going into the new season?

‘We have enjoyed success in our first two pre-season fixtures, against strong opposition, but there is so much
we can improve on individually and collectively. This is the real purpose of pre-season,
to assess players in every respect, start to look at different combinations and
possibly even formations and start to formulate an idea of exactly who should
be pushing and playing first team football. This is where the momentum comes
from as we work towards the league start date and progress towards our first
choice eleven and working on the different aspects of our game in order to hit
the ground running.’  

This week you won a hard-fought battle against semi-professional
Steeton AFC. Does this result against a higher league team give you confidence
that you can compete at the same level?

‘It’s difficult to really assess as it’s a pre-season friendly and not a competitive fixture. We weren’t at our
best, but I expect Steeton would say the same. However, I believe this group is
ready for that next step, I would also suggest that on the pitch a number of
West Yorkshire League teams would also be extremely competitive at that next
level. As such it’s both incredibly simple and extremely complicated for us
this season, we have to produce consistently, both individually and
collectively, prepared for any challenge. Needless to say, we’re looking
forward to it.’