Bishop's Stortford captain Sam Winter: 'I felt like I had part of my personality taken away, and what defines me'
Having been playing for the club for more than two decades, it is perhaps not surprising that Bishop's Stortford captain Sam Winter found a prolonged period of time without rugby very strange.
The pandemic not only forced early curtailment of the 2019-20 season but also cancellation of the entire 2020-21 campaign.
Now Winter, who has been at Silver Leys since the age of 10, is relishing the prospect of leading his troops into battle on the pitch once more, as well as enjoying the social aspect of the sport.
"I felt like I had part of my personality taken away, and what defines me," said Winter, 31, who broke into the first team 10 years ago. "It's been very strange.
"There's so much excitement about getting back to it. The social side of rugby is such a huge part of it and, even though we're in a more professional place than maybe we were when I started at the club, you're socialising every weekend travelling around the country.
"I'm really looking forward to going to places like Plymouth and Darlington again, staying overnight on the Friday. That's always good fun."
Winter – who scored the try that earned Stortford an 18-18 draw at Tonbridge Juddians in their first match of the new season – has been skipper throughout the club's time in National League 1, first donning the armband in 2017-18.
He helped the team make an instant impact following promotion as they finished an impressive eighth in their first season in the third tier of English rugby. They have subsequently firmly established themselves at this level thanks to ninth- and 11th-place finishes.
"Our first year in National 1 was my first year as captain, so it was a bit of a baptism of fire. I've been captain the whole time and it's a privilege," said Winter.
"It's a very different group of players now so there are new challenges, a new style of play and a new identity I suppose as a team. We've got to find what works for us.
"We've been very lucky at Stortford because we've always had a really good core group of talented players.
"In recent years those additional players have come in and added a bit more quality – we've had a link with Saracens – and generally the game has evolved. You have to be a bit more professional otherwise you won't stay at this level."
Winter took over the Stortford captaincy from Tom Coleman when he retired and now he and another former team-mate, Marcus Cattell, are in charge of the side.
The captain is pleased to be working with two men who also know the club inside out and believes the joint head coaches can continue the progression started by former director of rugby Andy Long.
"I played with both of them for years so I already have a good relationship with them. They're both very good coaches and very approachable," said Winter.
"I'm sure they'll continue to build on what Andy did. Andy was a huge part of the club developing that professional side of things."
As a new chapter begins, coinciding with the club getting its centenary celebrations under way, Winter is looking forward to seeing what the side can achieve following the game's hiatus.
And the captain expects his team to make more history with good performances and eye-catching results along the way.
"This season, with quite a new group of players, we've got to find our own way of doing things and build our own story," said Winter.
"There'll be ups and downs, there always are, so we've got to strive to finish in as high a position as we possibly can.
"We're always a difficult team to play and we rarely get beaten by a lot. I don't see that changing and I'm sure there will be more memorable scalps and away days."