Dom Di Paola has revealed that he’s not had time to miss football….he’s been too busy!
In a first interview with the club’s website since the Coronavirus pandemic brought about the cancellation of the 2019/20 season, the Hornets boss admitted that, rather than enabling him to put his feet up and begin planning for the new season (whenever that may be), his ‘other’ role as a Telecommunications Account Manager has left him busier than ever.
“I’ve barely stopped” he said. “A lot of companies are now having to work from home for the first time so we’ve been busy getting them set up, you’ve got some who are worried that they might go bust, others not paying their bills because of cashflow problems and concerns about their future. I’ve never known it so busy.”
With the added parental responsibilities that a three month old son demands, it has been a difficult time in the Di Paola household although Dom is typically pragmatic. “It’s my wife that I feel sorry for as she has had to do pretty much all of it on her own. I get around two hours in the morning and then that’s about it. With the current lockdown, she can’t ask family to help out but it is what it is. Every household has got problems right now. The situation we’re faced with is unprecedented and we all just have to get on with it, listen to the government advice, stay at home, stay safe, and do our best to help minimise the spread of the virus.”
The decision to cancel the Isthmian League programme and declare it ‘null and void’ has been met with criticism by some clubs but Dom believes the league had little alternative. “I really don’t see what else they could have done because there were still so many points left to play for. It would have been wrong to decide league placings in the boardroom or on paper although I would argue that clubs who have already had promotion or relegation confirmed, like Jersey Bulls, should stand and the leagues make the necessary adjustments to accommodate them next season.
“The National League will be an interesting one as that should be voided too, in my opinion, because I really can’t see when they’ll be able to finish the season. The pro leagues is a little more difficult because it’s their careers but that’s not necessarily the case in non-league.”
Although all football from step 3 downwards has now been cancelled, a number of clubs have signed a petition to prompt the leagues to reconsider their decision although Dom revealed that he hadn’t been contacted for his views.
“It’s clear that those clubs who have objected to the decision are the ones hopeful of going up and I obviously feel for them in that situation” he continued. “But if you look at someone like Worthing, for example, you can’t say they were guaranteed to go up. They’ve been the best team in our division, without doubt, but they’d only taken 8 points out of the last 21 and if Cray won their game in hand that would have put them 4 points behind with 8 games to play. How can you sit down and predict how that would have turned out?
“You can’t suddenly introduce new rules halfway through the season, either. Of course these are extreme circumstances that couldn’t have been predicted but if rules are written up before a season starts, that if everything has to be shut down early we have to hold an egg and spoon race to decide things then so be it, everyone would have signed up to that. The League had to make a decision and I genuinely couldn’t see that they could have done anything else.
“There’s been a lot of clubs shouting about how much money has been spent this season on trying to go up or just hoping to stay in the division but the same applies to all of us. We’d had a terrific season but although we weren’t likely to have got promoted, we were 90 minutes away from a cup final appearance, something this club hasn’t achieved in years, so we were as frustrated as some of those teams at the top of the table.
“Another problem you’d get by playing on in, say, September is that you can’t guarantee the players will still want to be at the club so to ask them come in and play under those circumstances, in probably a match on which there’s nothing riding on it, would be very hard.
“Yet we shouldn’t forget that football isn’t just about results. It’s about providing an escape, a release, for so many people. We’ve been very fortunate to get some big attendances at Horsham this season and I’m sure many of the supporters who have come along and paid their money in good faith will have felt disappointed at the outcome.”
Dom also revealed the difficulties the current circumstances place on planning for the new season. “In many ways it’s similar to the times when the league was reshuffled, with clubs taking sideways steps, some going bust and others getting a reprieve. We’re in a state of limbo although we do, at least, know that we’ll be in the same division next season but you don’t know what’s going to happen to some other clubs. The lack of income is going to hit everyone hard and we may see some cutting their cloth accordingly but I don’t think we’d be naïve enough to think that you’re suddenly going to get a lot of players released.
“There’ll always be clubs who have a wealthy backer who will be prepared to pay silly money as part of some ego trip so if a ‘star’ striker is no longer able to get paid what he thinks he’s worth at one club, he’s more than likely to get it somewhere else. I’m already finding that a lot of the players I’ve been speaking to have been talking to five or six clubs so our preparations are going to be tough this summer.
“We’ve had a couple of group calls with the boys in the last couple of weeks, and I’ve spoken to a lot of them on a one-to-one. I’m confident that most of them will stay on, which would be great as I don’t want to make wholesale changes next season. I think the supporters have liked the continuity of the squad over the last few years and, to be honest, it’ll be nice to get to pre-season again and get the players locked down so we know what we’re doing. The lads are all doing what they can to stay fit but the dressing room banter is what we all miss at the moment.
“Am I missing football? In all honesty I’ve not had time to catch my breath but the break might actually have come at a good time for us. We were feeling drained in the last few weeks as it had been really tough, keeping us up there challenging for the play-offs, and I think I’m at that stage like most summers where, for the first three or four weeks you’re happy for the break but then you get a bit of down time and remember what you’re missing and you can’t wait to get started again.
“It was a massively enjoyable season, one of the best in my career, but we pushed it to the max so the big question is are we going to be able to match it next season?”
Although admitting that there was no singular ‘stand-out’ match for him during the 2019/20 campaign, Dom has revealed some of his personal highlights:
- Brightlingsea Regent (a) “I loved the way we played that day”
- Bognor Regis Town (a) “Hanging on down at Bognor was brilliant. They battered us in the second half at a time when we had no idea how we would fare. We were just hoping to avoid relegation at the start!”
- Enfield Town (a) “Lovely day, a fantastic pitch, and a terrific performance despite being stuck on the coach for ages”
- Lewes (h&a) “It’s always nice to beat them, especially for our supporters”
- Met Police (h) “A great game of football, a real humdinger, and the manner by which we won it was just brilliant.”
- “Going toe-to-toe with the likes of Cray and Hornchurch and proving a match for some very good teams.”
Dom also highlighted the significance of the return to the town and our brand new stadium after more than a decade of groundsharing. “Playing at the new ground has made such a difference. You could feel how much pride there was from everyone involved with Horsham when we played Crawley pre-season, and we’ve adapted to the place really well. We’ve gone up a league and only lost five home games in all competitions, only three of which were in the league. We’ve had some fantastic gates and I think the supporters have been kept entertained by what they’ve seen.”
One of those defeats at the Camping World Community Stadium ranks among Dom’s biggest disappointments this season. “I was gutted not to beat Dartford in the FA Cup. We were brilliant that day and it was only their goalkeeper that proved the difference. But the biggest disappointment for me was the Boxing Day defeat at Worthing. I think about half the team had ‘flu and, looking back, I’m adamant one or two of them had the Coronavirus. So many people, include members of my own family, were unwell just before and over Christmas and I’ve read that the virus may have been surfacing around then. We couldn’t pick the team we wanted to and the boys just didn’t turn up.
“Merstham away was another one to forget. We should have got something out of the game as we were the better side but they did what we’ve done to some sides over the years and got the result. Not able to play the League Cup final was a huge blow, too. If we’d have beaten Cheshunt in the semi, the final was due to have been played this week so who knows when we’ll get that opportunity again?
“But, let’s be honest, football matches are very much secondary right now and I just hope that all our supporters are keeping safe and well at this really difficult time. We all look forward to seeing you back again next season.”