Soham Town Rangers chairman on taking the rough with the smooth during Covid-19 pandemic
Mark Goldsack is perhaps not one to sit and watch animated films on the days his beloved Soham Town Rangers are playing.
But during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Greens chairman has had to learn how to use his time at weekends in other ways and take the rough with the smooth.
“I miss football like mad,” Mark said. “Saturday afternoons watching Disney with my granddaughter isn’t quite the same as being at a football match.”
Mark, who describes himself as a “glass half full type of person”, has been working hard alongside other club volunteers to ensure Soham is as Covid-secure as possible.
Temperature checks, social distancing markers and hand sanitisers the key measures now in place at the club’s Julius Martin Lane ground, something Mark has been keen to get right.
“Volunteers are the bedrock of all of our clubs, so we’ve been very fortunate to have very generous volunteers,” he said.
“I can’t say that I’ve seen our core things at all grounds, anything like the level of attention we’ve put in. That I found disappointing, almost a flippant approach to Covid controls.”
One game that sticks in Mark’s mind this season is Soham’s FA Cup tie at Hashtag United in September, which was televised on the BBC.
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Although Rangers lost on penalties, supporters could be seen celebrating in large groups after the penalty shootout, questioning whether safety measures were properly enforced.
“I was standing at the other end aghast; how could this be happening?” Mark admitted.
“It seems like there wasn’t a psychological switch that went ‘hang on, we’re endangering people’.”
Times like these have made Mark perhaps pay more attention to detail in terms of keeping fans safe on their visit, and so far with the help of grants, he said has cost between £6,000 and £7,000 to implement Covid-secure measures.
But it’s not kudos that Soham are looking for, nor is it a competition with others.
“I never saw ourselves as setting an example. That would be an arrogant statement,” Mark said. “Our aim was to make visiting Soham Town Rangers a safe and enjoyable experience.”
While younger fans have come back, some of the club’s older supporters have been reluctant to return since the pandemic began in fear of being exposed to the virus.
Although East Cambridgeshire has some of the lowest transmission rates in the country, Mark realises the return of older fans will certainly not be a quick fix.
“I’ve spoken to a few about this and it is the nervousness of their health and maybe they don’t want to stand next to people,” he said.
“The police are the general public on Covid. If someone was standing too close to me, I’d say ‘excuse me’. That takes balls to have that conversation; not everyone is comfortable with that.
“I think that’s some of the reason why older folk haven’t come back because they don’t want to feel imposed upon by anyone else.”
Local clubs can prove vital for older fans in staying in touch with their community and gaining a sense of enjoyment at the weekend.
For Mark, solving the issue will not be a quick fix, but it’s certainly not impossible.
“Until society feels a safer place for the older generation, I don’t think we’ll see them regularly coming back through the gate. It’s heart-breaking because I know they miss it,” he said.
To tackle this issue, the club have been looking into whether more of their first-team’s away games can be streamed online following the success of their FA Cup tie.
“Bowers & Pitsea is not the most attractive places to drive to on a Monday night, so we had 70 odd people at our club watching the game. That proved to me there could be an audience,” Mark enthused.
Another way the club helped out its local community was through providing over 100 free school meals for children during the October half-term, raising over £2,500 in the process.
Soham have also added a fourth side to their ground, too, and while uncertainty still looms, acting as a community hub can only help the club survive for future generations.
“Our town has faced a lot of adversities, and that shows you the strength of the community you’re living in when people come out and do extraordinary things,” Mark said.
“The average age of a Soham fan is late fifties, early sixties. We’ve got to grow new supporters somewhere, and what better way of doing it than getting kids on board to make sure they’re happy in the environment we can provide.”