PRAISE has been heaped on York City Knights for their fan Zoom call initiative in a time where isolation and mental health have been pushed into the spotlight.

The club hosted a successful pilot run of calls last week on Zoom - a web-based video-call service - between supporters, chairman Jon Flatman, head coach James Ford and a selection of players.

More calls are in the offing in the coming weeks.

Following on from the ongoing global pandemic and measures imposed to curb it, such as lockdowns and limits on movement, many have reported increased feelings of loneliness and mental health struggles.

No one organisation can solve all the world’s ills, of course, but the Knights have been making positive waves on the local level.

As well as the Zoom chats, the club are also reaching out through phone calls and written communiques.

Andy Knowles, a season ticket holder along with his wife and two daughters, who was on one of last week's calls, said: “The whole club are all as one. I’ve watched York for decades and it’s never been as good as this, the link between the fans and the club. I just saw the Zoom calls as a brilliant way of keeping in touch with the fans.

“There’s a mental health side to it. That’s why they’re done it - they’re aware that some fans are really struggling. When you go months and months of uncertainty, it makes you realise what it does mean.

“There’s a young guy on there, about 13, 14, up to 60s, 70s - the diversity of fans they’re engaging with is really good, and everyone had a voice. Jon went round the group and there was an open general discussion of what we’ve been up to, what we’ve missed, what we want to do when Covid calms down, an update on the club.

“I do know some fans do live alone, and some fans aren’t confident with IT, and I do know the club is going to do what they did in lockdown one, which is give one or two people a phone. Jon Flatman sent numerous postcards to people from York City Knights. Then he got senior players to give people a ring each week, have a chat with them and make sure they’re alright.”

“You realise just how big a part York City Knights plays in people’s lives,” added Nigel Moulton, a season ticket holder for the past 10 years. The application process was straightforward, he said, and continued: “It was interesting to get an insight into how the lads go about doing their things and how Fordy plans his days out and stuff like that.

“It’s a really good initiative Jon and the club have put forward. It’s engaging with the supporters when we’re all missing our Sunday afternoon fix of rugby league. It’s coming up to a year ago since we had our last game.

“We’re very lucky to have Jon Flatman as chairman because he’s a very open, very engaging sort of fellow. He’s very much supporter-orientated and he knows the value of the support York has. He tries as much as he can to get engaged with the fans and get them involved.”

Would you recommend it? “Definitely,” they both responded on separate phone calls.

“There should be bigger engagement,” explained Nigel. “We have a lot of older fans at York who are not quite so familiar with Zoom and Teams (another web-based video and messaging service) and may be reluctant but it’s nothing to be frightened of and it’s a good chance to talk to the likes of Jon, Fordy and the players.”

“I’m a massive advocate of joining in,” said Andy. “Some people are nervous - it’s not everyone’s bag talking to a load of people. The club recognise that so do one-to-ones with a phone call or a postcard.

“It was a bit of fun. We had a bit of banter, which is difficult to have on a (written) message.”

“You just don’t know how isolated an individual may or may not be,” said head coach Ford. “And if we can play a small part in providing some connections and redeveloping some relationships and that helps then I think that’s brilliant and probably bigger than sport. I was pleased and proud to be involved in it.

“Whether I’m needed or not (in the next calls) - they might want someone with a little more personality on the call,” he joked, self-effacingly. “If that’s the case, that’s fine! We’re just happy to help in any way we can.”

Players including Morgan Smith, Brendan O’Hagan, Danny Kirmond, Tim Spears and Chris Clarkson have all participated thus far in the calls and seen first-hand the significance of York City Knights to the fans.

Andy said: “Jon asked me to speak first and I put my passionate side on and Chris Clarkson was like, ‘Wow, Andy, I’m really going to feed back to the lads’.

“The build-up starts on a Tuesday night. We’re all talking all week about the last game and the next game - it never stops in the season.”

Ford concluded: “Selfishly, I really enjoyed it. It was great to see some of the supporters, sponsors, the players. It was really good to touch base and have a conversation - it almost felt like normality.

“I think it was really good for the players on the call to listen to what the fans and people in the city are going through and just how much this team and their efforts mean to the supporters.

“It was really nice to listen to supporters sharing stories about games, tries and moments in seasons that they remember really fondly. I think it’s great for the players to see how well supported they are and just what kind of connection we’ve built with our supporters.”