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"I’m counting this as my 20th pre-season!"

Stewart Downing's seen it all in his near two decades as a professional footballer

5 June 2020

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Stewart Downing's experienced plenty of weird and wonderful scenarios during his illustrious career, but the Rovers midfielder believes the last few months have been the strangest yet.

The experienced midfield maestro, who admitted earlier this week that he would love to extend his stay at Rovers into a second season, joined up with the rest of the squad back in training at the end of last month.

The playmaker, who earned the last of his 35 England caps back in 2014, is approaching his 20th year as a professional, and says that he's counting this period as yet another pre-season campaign.

“It’s been a very strange last few months and testing times for everyone to be honest," the 35-year-old revealed to iFollow Rovers.

“It’s got a pre-season feel to it at the moment, but we’ve got nine games still to go.

“We’ve kept ourselves fit. The first few days were strange being back around the lads, but I imagine we’ll take things week-by-week.

“Everyone’s come back in really good shape. I’m counting this as my 20th pre-season!

“We were told very quickly that we wouldn’t be coming back when the season was suspended back in March.

“I thought we’d be back in within a week, and then I thought the season wouldn’t be completed, there were lots of things going around in your head.

“The good thing about it was the family time, spending time with my kids and my wife than I ever have done, but that’s been a test as well!"

Rovers entered the second phase of training on Thursday, which allows the squad to train at the Senior Training Centre in larger groups, up to a maximum number of 12, with close contact permitted.

Technical training and tackling is allowed, however all players and staff will maintain high levels of hygiene and use their best endeavours to maintain social distancing wherever possible during this next phase.

And Downing is delighted that normality appears to be slowly returning.

“I think it’s probably the right time to come back, and now it’s about getting normality back the best we possibly can," he added.

“Being around people and the lads again, that’s great.

“Seeing them in person is a lot different to us all catching up via video link. Hopefully we’ll be back in full contact sooner rather than later."

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