Farks and Lockdown

PARKWAY CAPTAIN ROB FARKINS ON LIFE IN LOCKDOWN AND NOT PLAYING FOOTBALL

By Stuart James
Sports Editor Plymouth Herald

PLENTY has been said about the need for elite sport to continue and pacify the mental health of a nation in lockdown. But while professional football clubs play on, in the name of entertainment, amateur football are finding it incredibly tough to remain inactive and are left kicking their heels, rather than balls. For many professionals, being a footballer is just a day job. It’s a privileged position to be in, but for non-league footballers, they play purely for the love of the beautiful game.

Doubts continue to surround the outcome of the 2020/21 non-league season with clubs invited to fill out a survey and send their thoughts on a fair conclusion to the FA. It all points towards a second successive campaign that will be declared null and void, an outcome that will not go down well at Plymouth Parkway, who were top of the Western League Premier Division before the league was suspended in early January.

Parkway want to be successful and they have the players the players that want to be successful as well. “I’d play three games a week to get the season done,” admits captain Rob Farkins, and he is not alone. It is an admirable and bold claim to make and one that he would probably admit is borne of frustration at the situation we are in, and his love of playing the game, rather than looking at the bigger picture. Practically, that is nigh on impossible and even Farkins ruefully admits that the likely scenario is another null and voided campaign where his and Parkway’s best efforts care likely to be in vain.

The one hope lies with the FA’s plans to introduce an eighth division at Step Four level from next season, which means there must be some sort of conclusion to this campaign with regards to promotion and relegation. Points per game is the only way to do it, which would work in Parkways favour if that is what is decided. “We have to hope now that the powers that be at the FA will either play again or, if not, they have to look promote teams like Parkway and Hebburn, who beat us in the Vase last year – teams that are dying to go up and progress through the leagues,” Farkins said. “They have to do something because you can’t go two seasons without promotion because it is killing teams. I think they were way too quick to make a decision on last season when we had about 10-12 games to go. They should have just hung fire and seen what happened because there was no reason why we couldn’t have completed the season in July.  Now we are wondering when we are going to play football again. I am massively missing it. You can’t train, you can’t do anything. We haven’t touched the ball since we played Newton Abbot Spurs at the start of December in the FA Vase. That’s once since the start of November and I am really missing it now.”

Time away from football has at least allowed Farkins, who works for the Army, time to spend with his young family. “To be fair, I am normally one that will play as many games as I can, but I have really enjoyed the time off,” he said. “Normally, I am here, there and everywhere doing a course here or there, or travelling up country, so for me, it’s been quite nice to be settled at home, do some stuff around the house and enjoy some family time really. Now, it’s got to a stage where there is only so many Homes Under the Hammer and The Chase I can watch! On Saturday’s, you are just thinking: ‘we have got to get football back’ and when we had the little glimpse of hope that we were going to play, through August, September and October, it was nice. But then we had the second lockdown and now the third.”

Farkins adds: It’s the camaraderie… I miss seeing the supporters and the boys in the changing rooms.” Farkins is certainly a well-known face on the local non-league circuit having also represented the likes of Truro City and Bideford. Now 31, he admits he is approaching the twilight of his career and that is another reason why he finds the suspension of football so tough to take. “We have basically gone eight months so far with no football and your summer is only two months,” he said. “I’d go and play in the South Devon League with my mates if I could, just for the laugh, and just to play some football. “I’ve probably got five more years, and this is time I will never get back. If you look at someone like (Parkway midfielder) Shane Krac, it could be the end for Shane. He’s 35 this month and coming back from a serious injury and he’s not playing. I think this will retire a lot of people, to be honest. It’s quite sad really.”

Farkins does have one advantage over many footballers that struggle to do the physical work just to stay fit. There are many that hate running or going to the gym and do it for the necessity of staying in shape, rather than the love of fitness. “I agree with that,” he said. “I don’t like the gym, but I do enjoy running and I am still doing that. I also want to do the London Marathon, so I have applied for that and I am getting the miles in during lockdown. “But it can be boring, I get that, and I do wake up sore because I am running on concrete. If you look at (Parkway Striker) Matt Wright, he can’t do too many runs because he has a bad knee and the impact of it would just make it flare up again, so he has to manage what he does, and his fitness won’t be as high as other people’s. The Gyms aren’t open to go on bikes, but a lot of people have got into cycling and are knocking out 40 or 50 ks. Bit it isn’t football and it’s not like a game of 5-a-side where a blow out from that is more than you’d get on a bike for an hour.”

It seems unlikely that non-league football fans can expect action to resume anytime soon with the best-case scenario looking like grassroots football returning in July in readiness for a new campaign in August. Time will tell in the following weeks what division Farkins and Parkway will find themselves in, but even Parkway manager Lee Hobbs admitted recently that he fears another season of Western League football is what lies ahead. Farkins is trying to remain positive though. “There are some people that are coming out and saying that points per game isn’t fair, but there is no denying it is fair because no matter who you play, you still have to win your games,” he said. If your points-per-game is only 1.5, then you have only won 50 percent of your games and you are the only people calling for null and void and teams can’t be promoted on points-per-game. I’d be very disappointed if there was nothing again because that is two years of hard work by clubs, I know a lot of people are talking about how it’s not right – Robbie Savage has been big on the non-league scene – so there are people backing it. Even if I was fighting relegation and we had lost ten on the bounce, I’d still want to get out there and play, but I know a lot of clubs don’t. Buckland are calling for null and void, but they say they want to help their players, they will say: ‘no, we want to play’ But the club are saying no they don’t want to. Well, for what reason? I would drive my own car to away games if I had to and I think lots of players would. You’re only going as far as Bristol, which is 100 miles up the road, so that’s £40 between you. You are a football club at the end of the day, and you are there to play football. I’d play three times a week, if it meant we finished the season, that’s no problem. Don’t get me wrong, I’d ache and all that, but we’d be playing football again and I think that’s what most footballers want.”

Words by Stuart James – @StuartJamesWMN 
Images provided by Dave Crawford – @DCrawfordPhoto