Sunday 19th July 2020
FOUR months ago, life changed, not only for Dumbarton, but for all of Scottish football.
Four weeks ago, life changed a bit more for Jim Duffy.
Now the route map is laid out towards things getting back to some sort of normal, at the end of a close season like no other.
As Sons left the Broadwood pitch following a 2-0 defeat to Clyde on Saturday, March 7, it had already been in the back of many people’s minds that it could be the last game of the season.
Not that it was meant to be – the campaign was meant to come to an end on Saturday, May 2 at home to Montrose, pending any playoffs.
Then the Covid-19 pandemic ruled out the rest of the season. It continues to dominate. Ordinarily, Dumbarton would be midway through their League Cup group at the moment. Instead, that afternoon in Cumbernauld remains their last on a football pitch to date.
As if that wasn’t enough, since the morning of Saturday, June 20, Jim has been fighting back to health after suffering a heart attack.
He’s on the mend – and with his new deal for the 2020/21 season agreed on Friday, the first step has been taken towards the new campaign.
That remains three months away, with Saturday, October 17 earmarked as the start date for League One, which will consist of 27 games instead of the usual 36.
But there are many steps to be taken yet, with Jim having an idea of what he wants to have available for the season ahead.
Speaking to www.dumbartonfootballclub.com, Jim said: “The last month has been strange, because it was not something I anticipated. I felt fit and healthy until that happened.
“So that sets you back, more psychologically than physically. It’s well documented that I don’t drink or smoke and never have done.
“It’s taken me a few weeks, but I’ve felt good and pretty healthy as much as I can be. I’ll give it another couple of weeks and hopefully after that I can push on as normally as possible.
“In terms of how football has been affected, and how life has been affected, the last four months haven’t been something you could envisage.
“There’s been a big financial impact and you can try to retrieve the situation and try to survive. Even now, it is trying circumstances for many teams.
“Dumbarton are one of the ones affected as much as anybody as we don’t have a major benefactor who could put their hand in their pocket.
“It’s been through the work of the board and the fans that Dumbarton have survived over umpteen years and it is going to be a real test for the club.”
Jim is already considering his options for what he will face that test with, but is aware of the limits in place.
He continued: “I hear people saying, and I sometimes laugh about it, that you look to build something, or you have a philosophy.
“That’s not something that can happen at Dumbarton because 90 per cent of the players are on one-year contracts, so you look at each season as a one-off.
“Last season we had no players until two to three weeks before we started the season. This time we have Ross Forbes (pictured below) signed, having signed an 18-month deal in January.
Copyright Fullarton Photos 2020
“There is a lot of work ahead of us to get a squad in place, but we need to be realistic and understand that our budget is going to be impacted by Covid.
“We have to work within the parameters but I am confident we will get a few of the boys signed up again. A lot will depend on what offers are made to them.
“All the boys enjoy playing and being at the club, and if we can use that then we can be encouraged that we will get a few players on board.
“But I couldn’t say how many at this moment in time. Over the next week or two, I would like to think we will add a few players.
“Initially we will start with our own players, and then look at who is available from elsewhere.”
On getting his own future sorted for the season, Jim said: “With the situation everybody is currently in, we just want to get back to seeing football again.
“The contractual side of it wasn’t even in any part of my thoughts – I am just happy and looking forward to getting back to work again.
“The club had said they wanted me to stay, and that was discussed before the lockdown, so it was just a case of seeing if football would take place. Getting three quarters of a season is better than none at all.
“From the aspect of the players as well, whoever is manager, there are players you want to keep, but they want to know who will be in charge. For me, it’s good to get things done.”
With League One called as it stood on its last matchday, Dumbarton finished sixth – and Jim is preparing for another competitive division this time around.
The truncated season also prevented the Sonstrust awards night from being held in person. Supporters voted Kyle Hutton (pictured below) as player of the year and Rico Quitongo as young player, as revealed in a virtually-staged ceremony in May.
Copyright Fullarton Photos 2019
Those were awards the two players deserved, the manager said.
He added: “We really missed Kyle when he was out injured, and Rico, in his first season in senior football, did tremendously well as a defender.
“He enjoyed his football again at Dumbarton and is another player we would be keen to have on board next year. But in their two cases, we will have to wait and see if we can encourage them to sign again.
“In getting the two awards, they were certainly worthy winners.
“Over the season you want to finish as high as you possibly can. It was difficult in a division with full-time or hybrid clubs, such as Raith Rovers, Falkirk and Airdrie, who were the top three in the league.
“And the biggest issue we have had, even before we came in, was injuries. Isaac Layne was out for two months, Kyle Hutton was out for two months. They are big players for us, and we had others missing significant parts of the season.
“I wouldn’t say the season was a bad one; we improved and got better as it went on, but consistency is the biggest thing we are looking for.
“But it is a tough league again next year. Partick Thistle and Cove Rangers will be strong, and we still have Falkirk and Airdrie.
“It will probably be the most competitive league of them all, and a real test for us, but keeping players healthy will give us a fighting chance.”
The supporters have also rallied around the club during the enforced lay-off of the last few months – a fact not lost on Jim.
A £25,000 crowdfunding campaign, an online auction and positive season ticket sales to date have all demonstrated how the fans have worked to assist the club.
It’s something which Jim feels will be recognised not only at DFC, but further afield.
He said: “I said it on the radio last week – never underestimate what the fans have done. I genuinely think that if it wasn’t for them, the club could have gone out of business. It is no exaggeration to say that.
“The supporters have been immense and it is really appreciated not only by the board, but just by football fans in general.
“It is easier when you have huge success and a huge fanbase, but when you don’t have that you rely totally on loyalty and passion from the fans for their club.
“It’s been an unbelievable response from our fans.”