Being under lockdown teaches you many things, and there is one that my teammates and I are particularly united on: until football has been taken away, you don’t realise just how much you love the game and how big a factor it is in your life. But we also know we are in the middle of a situation that is much bigger than us.
As players, we tend to live in our own bubble. We don’t really think external issues are going to affect our work, so the last month has been a massive jolt. I play for Alessandria, in the north-western region of Piedmont, and on Sunday we will have been virtually housebound for two weeks.
Everything happened very quickly. Our last game was on 23 February and at that point we knew our match the following Wednesday would be postponed. We assumed it was a precaution but then our next fixture was also called off and the situation spiralled. Next we heard we would be playing behind closed doors but that was followed by a bombshell: our region was locked down on 8 March, and the entire country the following day, which meant the season was suspended and training banned.
The days merge into one. We are so used to training daily, burning off energy, getting our stimuli that way, so it does drag on. Alessandria are in Serie C, the third division, so our players do not have home gyms or anything like that. Many of us younger guys live in the same apartment block, where space and resources are limited. I’ve established a routine as best I can. The club have given us workout programmes that help with strength and fitness training – yoga, stretching, posture, core training – and that assists with the mental aspect too.
I’m fortunate to be studying psychological science, via a university back home in Australia, so I’m using this as an opportunity to complete some assessments. I find I’m cleaning the apartment a lot and I’m on a mission to complete Netflix.
The gravity of what is happening strikes when you go outside. Quarantine is strictly enforced and the streets are desolate. Everyone is required to carry a document that gives permission to do the necessities, such as going to the pharmacy or the grocers, or giving a relative or elderly person a helping hand. The police have stopped people and given them fines, or even a court summons, if they cannot show they are out for a good reason.
Shopping takes time. Supermarkets have a limit of 10 or 15 customers, so the queues outside are long, while stocks of masks and hand sanitisers are wiped out as soon as they arrive.
We are lucky to have an authorisation document that, as footballers, gives us leniency to go for runs as long as we are not in groups or near other people. When the weather allows I tend to run in an isolated place; it doesn’t have the best terrain but you minimise the risks of contact with others and of getting into trouble.
Nobody at Alessandria has tested positive for coronavirus, although I know of other teams in our league, some fairly near to us, where there have been cases. The club are on top of everything and doing well to filter fact from fiction, which brings some serenity to the team. A lot of our players have families and small children so they have a right to be more worried than someone like me, who lives alone. We are all keeping in touch and making sure everyone is OK.
My situation has its drawbacks, though. I’m a long way from my family in Australia and my mother has found that difficult lately. At first I played down the seriousness of things when we spoke but it’s hard to keep the facts hidden. We have a daily phone call and I try to reassure her. Returning home is not really an option: I could have the virus but be asymptomatic. The reasoning behind our isolation is clear.
We wait to see what happens next. I think the league has a meeting on Monday to discuss the season and, if coronavirus cases are still rising, I can’t see any chance it will continue. In a way I feel calmer about that than some of my teammates.
Last season my parent club, Virtus Entella, did not play for nearly two months due to a complicated situation with the league. It means I’m used to this type of ordeal, in a strictly footballing context. I know the processes can take time and be a bit unclear. But I also appreciate there is lots at stake: I have several years left on my contract but wages at this level are not huge and I know some players whose deals expire this summer and need assurances.
It has been difficult, but we have to keep perspective. I have food and am healthy; there are people far worse off and we need to give them our support. The football authorities and clubs will have to find a way through this but there is another thing my fellow players and I are unanimous on: people’s lives are far more important than anything else.
Gabriel Cleur, 22, plays for US Alessandria Calcio 1912, on loan from Virtus Entella. He was in conversation with Nick Ames.