FOOTBALL not food is the training motivation for Billy Clarke now.

City begin their first full week of pre-season still under the complex guidelines of the stage one protocol placed on all clubs.

Stuart McCall hopes they can start to step things up by Thursday – providing the testing results on all the players pass without incident.

So, for now, it is mainly running and fitness work within small groups keeping a careful distance.

But there is a means to an end as the squad build up to the long-anticipated return to competitive action on Saturday, September 12. The long wait is nearly over.

Billy Clarke is as excited as anyone after a feast of TV matches whetted his appetite during the lockdown.

The returning Bantam can also look forward to healthier goals than he managed in those endless months of nothingness.

He said: “I went through a phase of ‘what’s the point of doing this’ because you were thinking it could be another two or three months. I was worried I could be exhausted by the time actual training comes round.

“I trained so hard during the week so I could eat whatever I wanted at the weekend.

“That was my goal. I’d just blast Monday to Saturday afternoon with training and running and then I’d eat like a 12-year-old at a sleepover party!

“It’s been a bit easier in the last few weeks because there is a goal to work towards. It feels like there is a point to it.

“The last month I’ve been back to progressive training and working with a structure like I used to do, where you build and build. I’ve been following stuff that I’ve learned over the years.

“I know it’s going to be hard in the next few weeks but the feeling when you get to the end of pre-season is pretty good, knowing you’ve got as fit as you can be.”

It has also helped that Clarke’s wife Kate is a personal trainer – and she was still able to continue working during the most restricted times.

He added: “You’ve been allowed to do one-to-one sessions in the park across the road from the gym.

“They just bring the equipment over and have organised, structured sessions so I’ve been able to do a bit of that.

“I did road running for a bit but it was heavy on the joints, my knees and back. So, I started doing it on the treadmill instead.”

The packed schedule on the telly has helped Clarke maintain his football fix since League Two ground to a halt in March.

He has been an avid viewer of the constant diet of behind-closed-doors action that has filled our screens in recent months.

“I actually prefer watching it without the fake fan voice,” he admitted. “I like the communication between the players and when you hear a manager give information on to the pitch.

“The football was a bit of an anti-climax to start with but it’s certainly improved as the games have gone, which is understandable.

“I think the German league was the same. The first couple of weeks were pretty poor but then it became good as the players got used to it.

“It’s just a shame that the (Premier League) title was won months ago so it was just a relegation watch after that.

“The Championship has been good and I’ve been watching a lot of that as well. But there’s been nothing else on the telly.

“Seeing all this football does make you wish you were out there playing as well and preparing for games. It’s been such a long time.

“But I’ve had it before with injury when you’re out, so I’m experienced in not playing football for a longer period. Maybe that’s helped to put me in a good mindset.”

Clarke does not hide his delight at getting a third crack at Valley Parade and the opportunity to rekindle his close working relationship with McCall.

“It’s similar to Ian Holloway,” added the Irishman referring to his previous boss at Grimsby. “You’d run through brick walls for him.

"You saw the atmosphere when he came back and how it lifted everyone, the players and the crowd.

“It’s that enjoyment side of the game that he brings and you want to do well for him. None of the players will say a bad word about him or Kenny (Black).

“You will have a bad game, that’s going to happen, but there’s no dwelling on it.

“You work harder when you’re enjoying it, that’s a fact. You do go that bit further even thought it doesn’t feel like it.

“Last time I left, I did think that was it. I obviously hoped that I’d be back in some capacity eventually but you never know.

“Now I can’t wait to get going again and hopefully get this club back to how it was."