For Sean Dyche the lockdown was a time to “pause, shutdown, think about the important things in life” – and learn a few new words. “There’s ‘butters’ and ‘minging’ – which apparently I am – and ‘hench’ and all these things,” the Burnley manager says as he discusses the time spent with his teenage son and daughter back at the family home in Kettering.
“When I was in lockdown I wasn’t talking football every day and doing 50 Zoom calls,” Dyche says. “I was spending some quality time with my family, particularly my kids who are growing up and I don’t see all the time because I live in two places. I was conversing with them, sitting round the table, old-school stuff, having dinner together every night, going on bike rides, walking, talking, listening to them, learning their slang words – which made me laugh – and then getting their feedback from watching the daily coronavirus bulletins and debating and asking them what they think. Trust me that was high on my agenda and it certainly wasn’t about football. I think at some point in the future I will look back at it as being precious.”
There was also the simple pleasure of a manual task such as “jet-washing the patio, or cutting down a tree, which I did, clearing the garage, getting that workman’s feeling, freeing your mind up” which Dyche encouraged his players to follow. In fact, early on, he took the decision that the lockdown would last months rather than weeks and that it provided a unique opportunity for his squad to “de-focus completely” from football. So, for five weeks, the players were not given fitness programmes, or told to wear GPS tracking equipment.
Instead, Dyche says, it was a case of “what do you need at this time?” And he concluded that was family-time. “I call it ‘soft psychology’.” Dyche explains. “I am not trained in psychology but I have been around the game long enough and had good and bad experience, highs and lows, and I understand. It’s not sympathy, by the way. Football is hard. Don’t go into it if you can’t take knocks. But there is empathy, understanding, a belief in what they need and what makes them and what gives them the best chance to perform and I like that side of it.”
Dyche also liked the sport being broken down. Under the new protocols players had to do more for themselves – little things like washing their own kit – and it appealed to him. “Look, there have been some amazing steps in academies but one of the things that is not amazing is taking away the hierarchy of knowing what it is to earn your spurs and work up the levels and in my opinion that should never have gone,” Dyche says.