Harvey's 'back in the old routine' as football awaits decision on season
THE green fields of Staindrop are a long way from Highbury Stadium, the home of EFL League One outfit Fleetwood Town FC.
But for now, they are Harvey Saunders’ training ground to ensure he keeps his fitness levels up if and when the football season is played out to a conclusion.
The 22-year-old returned to his home village when the coronavirus restrictions called a halt to the action.
He signed for Fleetwood from Darlington in January last year and was immediately loaned back to the Quakers to complete the National League North season.
Having initially joined Fleetwood’s development squad, Harvey has been making steady progress during his first season in Lancashire.
His first taste of first team action came in a Football League Trophy tie away at Accrington Stanley on September 3 last year when he was brought on as a 74th minute substitute for Ched Evans in a 2-1 defeat.
“It was a massive moment,” recalls Harvey.
“My dad was there and it was great to say I had played my first professional game.
“I surprised myself. I was nervous, but once I got on I just enjoyed the game. That’s what you need to do.”
His first start came later in September in the same competition against Liverpool U21s when he completed a full 90 minutes.
The game ended 1-1, with Fleetwood winning 4-3 on penalties.
Harvey’s first taste of league action came in December and was fleeting when he replaced Ched Evans again for a couple of minutes in the 1-1 draw at home to Gillingham.
By now a regular member of the first team squad, he has gained game time against teams including Sunderland, both home and away.
When the season came to a halt, Fleetwood were pushing for promotion to the EFL championship under the watchful eye of manager Joey Barton and were on an unbeaten six game run.
With nine games remaining, the team was sitting fifth, one of a handful of teams – including Sunderland – vying for an automatic promotion spot behind leaders Coventry, who were five points clear of the rest.
“We were in a good place and enjoying it,” said Harvey.
He points to the increased intensity of training every day as the main difference between League One and National League North.
“It was a competitive level at Darlington, but here it is people’s job. No-one wants to lose their spot.
“It is very enjoyable, but it is much more serious,” he said.
He is finding the enforced layoff a frustrating time.
“As soon as it was called off, everyone went home and I came back to Staindrop,” he said.“I missed it straight away and you want to be there. When you are not training every day it affects you.”
And so Harvey is “back in the old routine”, using the fields and paths of Staindrop to ensure he is ready whenever the call comes to pull the boots back on.
“We are all playing it by ear, waiting to hear what the government decides.
“We were having a great little run, so it was not a great time for us [to stop].
“The fitness coaches keep putting on little routines and variations for us to keep fit. Whenever it comes, I will be ready for it.”
And what of playing under Joey Barton, who chalked up 130 appearances for Manchester City and 269 in the Premier League all told?
“I am learning a lot from him – he played at the highest level,” said Harvey.