As footballers worked to do our part, people tried to make villains of us | Ben Mee | Football

As footballers we are very privileged to do what we do in this country and we never forget that. The money we earn is well-documented but the majority of professionals are from working-class backgrounds and whatever successes we enjoy, we are still anchored by the social conscience formed by our surroundings.

We are using the means we are lucky to have to help those who really need it, the people who are fighting this terrible virus on the frontline on the NHS. Jordan Henderson might be the captain of the European champions but he is also a working-class lad from Sunderland who deserves the full credit for bringing us all together, showing what makes a true leader. As a group we just wanted to do something positive and we feel we have taken a step towards achieving it.

From the moment Jordan called me, the Premier League captains have worked tirelessly to ensure we could get #PlayersTogether in place in such a short space of time. There has been great collective urgency to help in any way possible but at the same time ensuring our funds are directed to the places they are most needed. Naturally, such a complex matter needs time to sort but our frank discussions always had the same purpose: to help in any way we can as quickly as possible.

The aim is to raise as much as possible and to get the money, as soon as humanly possible, to NHS charities. The funding will be used to assist NHS staff and volunteers, providing them with food, overnight essentials and furniture for rest rooms. Because of the wicked nature of the virus, many are left isolated, not able to see those closest to them, which will undoubtedly have an impact on mental health, so we feel it is important these people can get access to devices, allowing them to talk with friends and family.

The long-term impact of this crisis will be felt for years to come, so it is important our grants are released in stages when they are needed. A percentage will be used to provide respite, rehabilitation and mental health recovery to NHS staff and their families. As with football, support does not stop once the match is over and we will continue to back the frontline whenever it is needed.

Football is a global game and the Premier League reflects this with its diversity in every team, as players travel from all over the world to be part of the best competition in the world. Every player has a story of how coronavirus has impacted their country. Many are sending money back to their own countries to help the fight there as that is the right thing to do for them. This one of the reasons why the #PlayersTogether donations will be anonymous. There is no pressure on individuals to put money to this cause as there are many fantastic charitable opportunities globally that can help.

Liverpool’s captain, Jordan Henderson, showed ‘what makes a true leader’, according to Ben Mee.

Liverpool’s captain, Jordan Henderson, showed ‘what makes a true leader’, according to Ben Mee. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

The criticism of footballers from those in the media and government has been unhelpful, to say the least. Bad press comes with the territory of being in a high-profile profession – these things make for easier headlines than the constant community and charitable work we do all over the globe. As we worked hard to do our part they have created a distraction, needlessly trying to make villains out of footballers, rather than focusing their airtime on praising the great work of those key workers who are putting themselves at risk to help others. They are the ones grafting to keep this country on its feet when they need it most. We are just doing our part to support them.

Our message is a positive one and if using our profile helps other wealthy people to review their social conscience and donate then the more the merrier. But money is not the only way to help in this situation. We can all do our bit, whether it’s staying at home or assisting an elderly relative or neighbour. We are all in this together.

All the British players know the importance of the NHS. We’ve all used it, the majority of us have come from working-class backgrounds – we weren’t born with a silver spoon in our mouths. More specifically, we were born in NHS hospitals. And all the players, regardless of where they are from, understand the urgency of the matter: a lot of people are putting themselves at risk to help us out, to look after us and we know how important it is.

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My wife is pregnant with our second child and we will be relying on the NHS to provide us with fantastic care, as they did when our son was born. Throughout our lives we have used this fantastic service to keep us healthy and I am grateful that we can give something back.

Currently, we all have more time to reflect on what we are grateful for and I am doing so every day. I have always been thankful for what football has given me and the freedoms it has offered in my life.

We all have the same worries at the moment; we are working hard to keep our families and loved ones safe. Nothing else really matters. When we come out the other side of this, my hope is we will become a closer-knit society, which has more understanding of others, regardless of occupation, background or even what team they might support.

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