Dave Seddon's Preston North End press view: An unprecedented time in football and society

Hamstring strains, tactics and form are the usual discussion points at football’s pre-match press conferences.

Friday, 13th March 2020, 9:29 pm
Updated Friday, 13th March 2020, 9:31 pm

Such gatherings with Preston North End manager Alex Neil make for an enjoyable 20 minutes or so at Springfields on a Thursday morning, plenty of comment coming from him.

Sometimes you have to try and read between the lines on injury news – for example whether a ‘knock’ is just that or the player in question has a leg hanging off.

You leave with several pages of the notebook filled, with the just the odd swear word needing a red line drawing through it.

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Preston manager Alex Neil

On Thursday this week, the seriousness of tone went up another notch from Neil.

It was not just about injuries, who is and who isn’t scoring, and what threat Luton would pose.

The subject moved on to coronavirus, the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Neil’s comments on the matter put him 24 hours or so ahead of the game so to speak.

Alex Neil shows some nifty footwork on the touchline at Deepdale

He was asked specifically about the possibility of games being played behind closed doors – an option being heavily speculated about midweek.

Playing in an empty stadium was not for Neil, his strong feeling being that football should be stopped for a period while we are in the grip of the pandemic.

He reasoned that players and club staff were still at risk, even if the stadium was empty.

Football wasn’t immune to Covid-19, so it proved later that night when it was revealed Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta had tested positive.

News of Arteta being diagnosed came just half an hour or so after the Premier League had put out a statement to say its matches would be played over the weekend.

Earlier in the evening, the EFL had confirmed likewise, it was business at usual for the time being but with a promise to review as they went along.

Such a review came only a matter of hours later after Arteta’s diagnosis became public knowledge.

By 11am on Friday the EFL and Premier League had postponed games until April 3 at the earliest.

In terms of the advice from the Government, nothing had changed in the meantime regarding the risk level from coronavirus.

There had been no ban on mass gatherings and still there isn’t in this country.

Arteta going down with coronavirus sharpened minds though, took the blinkers of those who thought football was more important than life or death.

There was no way that football was going to get through the next few weeks unscathed if it had been allowed to roll on.

A few teams had players self-isolating now and that could become commonplace as we go on.

Just a few weeks ago by the way, who would have thought self-isolate would be an everyday phrase in our vocabulary?

Football has bought itself a bit of breathing space by suspending games until the start of April 3.

It must be emphasised that it is April 3 ‘at the earliest’ so a return date for matches could be further on.

The football authorities will have to take advice along the way as they play for the season to get going again.

A later finish to the season looks inevitable and that will be helped by the postponement of Euro 2020 which simply can’t go ahead this summer.

Looking at the calender in the Championship, there are two spare midweeks to fit games in – as long as things do get going on April 4.

For North End, the free midweeks would be between the Brentford and Birmingham games, and then between Birmingham and Bristol City.

That would still leave a game to play, possibly a week after the scheduled end of the season.

It might mean the play-offs having to be pushed back or squashed into a much shorter period.

So there is some room for movement, although at this stage it is all ifs, buts and maybes.

It is just a matter of hours on from the season being suspended and there is much to be taken into consideration.

In the meantime, clubs must survive the shutdown.

That will be easier for the Premier League teams but still a challenge.

Outside the top flight where ticket money is the big source of revenue, clubs won’t have anyone coming through the turnstiles.

Wages still need paying and bills paid, so it isn’t going to be the most straight forward of times.

On the playing side, the players will need to be kept ticking over ahead of more intense work nearer to the start of the resumption.

They can’t be kept in a bubble so like the rest of us will be running the risk every time they step out of their front door of coming into contact with this virus.

We are in uncharted waters for football and indeed society. There is little pre-planning you can do for such events.

The first detection of coronavirus came on December 31 in China and in less than three months it has spread its grip throughout the world.