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Guildford City have partnered with Joymo for live match day streaming services, with all of their games since the resumption of grassroots sport available to watch live or on demand online.

Guildford City were once one of the best non-league clubs in the country and played in the equivalent of today’s National League. The ‘old club’ folded in 1974 but was resurrected by a group of enthusiastic volunteers in 1996. Now playing in the Combined Counties League Premier Division, the country was still in lockdown when new manager, Paul Barnes, took over in January.

Barnes, who holds a UEFA A Licence and is Director of Football at Westminster School by day, joined Guildford from Staines Town. He immediately set about installing a new culture and mentality for the club as they seek to rise up the football pyramid. This ambition has seen the club bring in strength and conditioning coaches, a sport science team and partner with a GPS provider to track players during training and match days. 

Paul Barnes spoke to The Grassroots Post about his progress in the role so far and how technology is helping to improve performance and keep his players engaged.

How challenging was it to step into the manager’s position during the pandemic?

Paul Barnes: Our league was paused when I took over and we didn’t know if the competition would continue, so it was an uncertain time to take over. The club were languishing at the bottom of the table as well, so, from my point of view, it was a time to use to our advantage and assess the squad. Even though a lot of people said, “well, you can’t really do a lot during lockdown,” we were really proactive. 

We used the time to do lots of online sessions – regular Zoom calls to deliver fitness programmes, plus technical and tactical information via presentations. We also had guest speakers from around the game give support to players. For me, it was all about how we could build relationships and engage with the players all the way through lockdown. 

Ultimately, the league season was curtailed but the FA Vase continued, so that was a great incentive and we wanted to give the players the best chance to perform.

Since grassroots football returned, you’ve been using video analysis and live streaming your matches – what was the driver for that?

PB: I’ve always been a big advocate of analysis and using video to improve performance, so it’s a great tool for that. We are trying to be progressive on and off the pitch, and a big reason for signing up with Joymo was to better engage with our supporters and the local community. And also further afield, where people are maybe hearing good things about what we are doing at Guildford. 

We understood that a lot of our supporters wanted to be able to follow the team while we are playing behind closed doors. We also appreciate that there are still risks for people who haven’t been vaccinated for Covid-19, so we may see less attendees when fans are allowed to return. 

Now they have the choice. They don’t have to physically go to the game to watch us. They can stay safe at home and watch the stream online. At the moment, when we are all trying to minimise travel, Joymo is helping us to connect better with our fans and the local community.

How easy have you found it to film your games and training sessions?

PB: We actually film our matches from two angles with our media team positioned on one side of the pitch and our video analysis team on the other. Both are using their mobile phones and a tripod to film the games, which has worked brilliantly. It’s really simple to set up the live stream and the feedback we’ve had from the fans watching has been really positive. They are really grateful that they now have an option to see the games online at their leisure.

What have the players made of being able to watch and analyse their own performance?

PB: From the player perspective, there has been a real buzz since we started streaming our matches. Our first live stream was an FA Vase game, which was a big occasion – one of the biggest games in the club’s history. 

All the players were talking about it, they were sending our WhatsApp group pictures of their families set up at home ready to watch the game. So, it was brilliant that their biggest supporters, and fans of the team, were still able to watch the game in real time. 

The best example is our goalkeeper who’d set his family up on the stream, and the game ended up going to penalties and he saved one. It was brilliant that he could share that moment with his friends and family and relive it again online.  

How else are you using the live streaming of matches to your advantage?

PB: The added benefit of streaming our games is that there are players that I’m talking to about joining the club for next season and they are able to jump online and watch the team and see for themselves. Just being a club that’s associated with streaming its games is a helpful marketing tool for attracting new players and to being recognised as a club that’s innovating.

Do you expect to see more clubs at your level, and below, starting to stream games in the future? 

PB: I think so, and that was why I was so keen to sign up with Joymo, because I believe this is where the world is going. We’ve talked about the benefits from a playing perspective and staying connected with our fans, but this is also a way for us to make revenues that can help the ongoing development of the club. 

From a supporter’s perspective, we play in an area where we sometimes travel up to two hours for games and that’s just not possible for many people in this day and age. They’d love to come and watch us home and away every week, and now they can with Joymo. 

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