Steve Bruce and his staff at Newcastle are implementing coronavirus contingency plans that have been on the club’s tactics board for a month. It is a blueprint that has left every player with a personal training programme to be undertaken in private and the training ground undergoing frequent fumigation procedures during an impending two-week shutdown.
“We’ve been talking about what would happen if everything was suspended for the past four weeks now,” said Newcastle’s manager as he endorsed the postponement of all Premier League fixtures until 4 April. “I don’t think there’s any alternative. My staff and I were sitting watching the TV yesterday and the news [games were then going ahead] came through from the prime minister, and we all thought: ‘OK.’
“We were saying: ‘Well, what happens if one of the players or a manager gets it?’ And then lo and behold, Mikel Arteta did; it was inevitable, wasn’t it?”
Some clubs with more modern weekday headquarters may opt to keep their squads together but Newcastle’s base, in one of the city’s northern suburbs, is old, cramped and in need of either renovation or relocation. In other words, it represents a perfect environment for viruses to spread; which is why the club has taken the precaution of closing both it and the nearby academy for the next fortnight.
“The plan is for the players to go away with their own individual programmes, we’ve set the personal plans in place and they’re ready to go,” said Bruce. “It’s to take them away from here because we’re on top of each other. There’s 70 or 80 of us in a confined space so if someone got infected and then came back here that clearly would be an issue – and coronavirus is so contagious.”
The one exception is physiotherapy, with injured players unable to be treated at home still potentially attending the medical department. “I would think players needing physio or having a course of treatment will be coming in to the training ground,” said Bruce.
He is open-minded about any of his squad who may want to either return to their home country or take a short break abroad somewhere warm; particularly as sunnier, hotter countries often have fewer incidences of the virus. “I’ll have a chat with our doctor,” he said. “Whether you stay here or go abroad you run a risk of contracting it. I’ll be guided by the individual medical advice.”
Newcastle’s manager was flanked by hand sanitisers as he spoke but his workplace was being regularly sprayed with anti-viral and bacterial agents even before coronavirus reached the UK. It is a form of fumigation that has been in operation since Christmas when a different bug swept through Newcastle’s playing and off-field staff.
Last Sunday marked the latest in a series of thorough sprayings and the amount of hand-sanitising dispensers was increased. “We’ve always had to guard against things anyway,” said Bruce, whose squad and staff currently remain healthy.
“It’s not the biggest training ground and there’s not loads of windows so you can’t get a lot of fresh air through it. It’s always a problem for us. We’ve always had to guard against sickness and bugs.
“We had a little bit of it over the Christmas period when we had four or five feeling a bit unwell. If you’re not careful and don’t isolate them, it can rampage through the place. Steve Clemence [the first-team coach] didn’t come to the game at Manchester United because he was sick – we had a few sick at Christmas.”
Some of Bruce’s peers advocated playing behind closed doors but he has never regarded that as a feasible option. “You play football to be in front of fans,” he said. “There would have been 52,000 at St James’ Park for Sheffield United on Saturday and the game is all about those supporters. The idea of playing in front of nobody doesn’t appeal at all. For me, you’ve got to suspend it and wait until you get the all clear.
“Thousands could die from this disease; people’s welfare is more important than a football match, a season or a tournament.”