Staplewood Campus has welcomed increased activity this month, with the return of the Southampton’s Under-18 and Under-23 teams.
The youngsters are now back in action at the training ground, as they begin building up to a new season, marking the first time since March that players have been with their teammates kicking a football – something that seemed so ordinary just a few months ago.
Academy Director Matt Hale spoke of the excitement of being back on campus, and the importance of that return for the players.
He said: “It seems like it's been a long time coming really. Obviously with everything that is going on in the world right now, there’s been a lot of organising and planning going on in the background, which allows us to be back.
“It was important to have them back together as soon as we got the green light to do so, as we wanted to firstly help protect that first-team bubble whilst they were completing the Premier League season.
"Socially and mentally, for the lads to be back training and be together as a group was important and they’ve certainly got smiles on their faces now they are back in.”
Academy Manager Edd Vahid believes that, although lockdown had its obvious challenges, it has also been used as an opportunity to improve in certain areas.
“Everyone responded really well,” he said. “We’ve adapted well as, whilst it’s not been ideal and we’ve all accepted we’re going to lose some things operating virtually by not having that social contact and games, we have strengthened in other areas.
“Players have gained a lot, such as leadership skills, which they have demonstrated through showing creativity, as each player has different living circumstances and certain resources.
"We’ve had many things we can’t replicate, but many things have been gained. I think it is credit to everyone that we’ve adapted reasonably well.”
MATT HALElots has been put in place to allow these lads back, but we've done it and that's testament to the doctors and medical team here.
Although players are now back on-site, it’s not the environment they left in March and Hale shared just some of the measures that have been put in place to ensure player and staff safety is taken care of.
He said: “We’ve had to do many things, such as installing Perspex screens on minibuses so our players who are under 18 and with a host family could come in, and we’ve had to rejig the transport system to make that safe and keep drivers safe.
“The host family environment which they stay in, there’s certain protocols they have to go through and safety measures they have to have in place to ensure our young players are safe to host.
“There’s also a one-way system in place at Staplewood Campus so people don’t cross over and mix. We have all outdoor facilities now with marquees installed so we have had to transform this part of the training pitch to ensure its COVID safe and bio-secure.
“Lots has been put in place to allow these lads back, but we’ve done it and that’s testament to the doctors and medical team here.”
Although no-one knows what will unfold in the coming weeks and months, Vahid shared the hopeful next steps. “It will take time to consider when we will return to what we’d call normal or what we left in March,” he said. “Currently, the boys are still doing their education virtually and the teachers are fantastic at engaging with them on Zoom.
“We hope to have our under-age groups back in September, that would be another big step for them and they are eager to return. When normality will resume, we don’t know, but we are moving closer towards that.”