The first major team sports have poked their heads above the parapet and got the all clear to play ball, as GJ Gardner Homes Whanganui Athletic will finally kick off their 2020 Lotto Central Federation League campaign at Wembley Park this Saturday.

Like all codes, football went into hibernation during the Covid-19 pandemic, but the cycling back through the lockdown levels, coupled with the Government's announcement that gatherings of 100 people are allowed again, saw start dates confirmed rapidly.

Athletic, under new coach Tex von Kwiatkowski, will meet Levin AFC to begin the nine-team league grade.

"We've just had a preseason game yesterday and that was cool," said Athletic team member and club president Peter Czerwonka this afternoon.


"Since we've been allowed back training, it's been groups of ten, which is quite easy for us with a nice, big park at Wembley.

"Now, with groups of 100, we're really good to go, and have to take a book around if there's spectators [for contact tracing]."

In addition, there will be no indoor aftermatch functions for at least the first four weeks of the competition.

From the original Athletic squad that mustered in February, the side will not have the services of the just-arrived Welshman Rhys Crane, who made the decision to return home to his family before the New Zealand border was closed.

"Which is understandable, there's so many unknowns," said Czerwonka.

"We wish him all the best with what he wants to do."

However, there is a silver lining with other noteworthy players now happy to be in Whanganui after the pandemic changed their plans.

The son of the club patron, Terry Stewart has returned home to play after four years, after his career in Europe with super yachts was adversely affected by the pandemic.


"He's back and raring to go, and really keen to play another season in red," said Czerwonka.

In addition, 2018 player Quinn Mailman has decided to continue his university study from correspondence for the rest of this year, and is therefore staying in town.

The big pick up is Englishman Martyn Freestone, a veteran who will offer a lot in quality and workrate, and who Czerwonka agreed will be looking forward to playing in a western country that appears to have beaten the virus.

"He feels quite good about his decision, brings a lot of experience.

"He's played semi-pro stuff in America and had a couple of seasons in Australia as well."

Other season pickups like Tesco Grunwald, Zac Farmer, Josh Ngapeka and Josh Smith are still ready to roll, joining a side with noteworthy regulars like striker Ryan Holden and towering defender Shaan Stuart.

And the taskmaster von Kwiatkowski made sure his players didn't spend their lockdown being idle either.

"Everyone's come back into camp in quite good shape," said Czerwonka.

The squad was set a fitness plan and communicated regularly on their progress in online group chats and Zoom meetings, creating an in-house competition to see who could do the most work.

"I had to move all the couches and the dining table to one side and had a ball I was dribbling during the Zoom's," said Czerwonka.

Senior men's and women's football will all kickoff this weekend, to be followed by the juniors in coming weeks.

The Athletic vs Levin match kicks off at 2.45pm on Wembley No 1.