Football must not restart until strain on NHS eases, says Watford chairman | Football

The Watford chairman and CEO, Scott Duxbury, has said that a resumption of top-level football in England should be off the agenda until the burden on the NHS has become less severe, adding that he does not think “football is important at the moment”.

Before the meeting of Premier League executives scheduled for Friday, and with the Bundesliga lined up to be the first major league to restart after a coronavirus lockdown, Duxbury said: “I feel uncomfortable at this stage even talking about football because there are people dying every day, there are stresses on the NHS, and that has to be the priority.

“Do I want to resume football? Absolutely, and when it’s safe and the government says it’s fine and all the players and support staff that follow football can return, then I’m 100% behind that. But at the moment I feel all efforts have to be on beating the pandemic and supporting the NHS.”

During the lockdown Watford have opened their stadium up to staff from neighbouring Watford general hospital, as well as those from hospitals in nearby Hemel Hempstead and St Albans. Executive boxes, including the one leased by the captain, Troy Deeney, have been converted into bedrooms for NHS staff isolating from family members, meeting rooms have been made available, and the club are cleaning 10,000 pairs of scrubs and providing 1,000 free meals a day. They are also in the process of converting a separate part of the stadium to host antenatal and postnatal appointments, which will open on Wednesday.

Watford are owned by the same family that controls the northern Italian club Udinese, with the two teams also sharing some scouting and administrative staff. Duxbury said: “I have a lot of friends, a lot of colleagues in Italy, some of whom unfortunately have died because of this and I think it does bring home how serious this situation is.

“I’m not trying to be disrespectful when I say I don’t think football is important at the moment. This is the fight that’s important, the support that we’re providing is important. Of course we have to get back to normality, of course football plays a huge part in that, but at the moment the world finds itself in an awful situation, and this is where our focus needs to be.”

Executive boxes have been converted into bedrooms for NHS staff isolating from family members. Photograph: Watford FC

Earlier this month Watford general hospital declared a critical incident as their oxygen supplies dwindled, but though that particular crisis is over they remain severely stretched. “It’s been fantastic,” said Theresa Maunganidze, a surgical specialist nurse who has been working with Covid-19 patients, who was among those using the facilities in a busy Lower Graham Taylor stand on Monday lunchtime. “We’re in PPE most of the time, seeing difficult situations the type of which we’ve never seen before. Having that break, to come out for fresh air, to come to a place that’s not a hospital, to chat and laugh and share experiences and reflect on the day, it’s been amazing.

“As nurses we’re there to care for patients and see them get better but when you know people are dying no matter how much you try to help them, it is daunting. But most importantly we are the ones who are there for the patients in their last days. There are no relatives around. It is intense and emotionally draining.”

The club’s Sir Elton John suite has been repurposed as an area for meetings and training, and Duxbury has been in touch with former owner during the current situation. “He’s aware of what we’re doing and he’s very proud of the football club. For him to see those values that he and Graham set are very much alive and well, it’s something that he and we all should be very proud of.”

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