Ex-Newcastle United defender Steven Taylor breaks silence on quarantine in Australia with A-League side Wellington Phoenix

Steven Taylor’s seen and experienced a lot in his long career, but nothing like this.
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Taylor, a former Newcastle United defender, and his Wellington Phoenix team-mates are in quarantine. For two weeks.

Football around the world has been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the A-League is continuing, for now, having gone behind closed doors.

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Wellington have had to relocate from New Zealand to Australia for the rest of the season, and to do that they have had to self-isolate, as a team, for two weeks at a sports complex in New South Wales to prove they are not bringing the virus into the country.

It’s not a hardship compared with what people are going through in Italy and other countries where the virus has spread rapidly – people are dying at a staggering rate every day in Europe – but it’s a unique situation for a football team.

“We know we’re very lucky,” said Taylor. “We see that on TV, seeing the situations all around the world. The lads have families at home. We hope everyone can stay safe. We’ve just got to concentrate on ourselves, and do the job.”

Wellington’s players – whose families are in New Zealand and elsewhere in the world – are following the news closely, as a group, on the TV in the games room.

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One player, in particular, has made a huge sacrifice to help his team complete the season. Midfielder Ulises Davila chose to forgo a visit to Mexico to see his newborn child to self-isolate with his team-mates.

Steven Taylor.Steven Taylor.
Steven Taylor.

There’s also the uncertainty of what will happen when the season finishes given the border restrictions around the world.

New Zealand has implemented strict new border rules which means only citizens and residents are allowed into the country. Taylor and the club’s other overseas players have work visas.

“The news is on in the games room area we’ve got,” said Taylor, the club’s captain. “People have got family and kids – that’s the main thing for them. Their families are in New Zealand. We’ve got a lad whose wife has had a baby and gone back to Mexico. He won’t be able won’t see his baby until the season has finished, and whether he can go back or not, it’s all up in the air.

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“The manager’s been very flexible, very good. He said ‘listen, if your wife calls, or any family member, you pick up the phone’. It’s very laid back. It’s like everyday life. We use the games room and gym as much as possible so you’re not bored sitting in your rooms all the time.

Steven Taylor at Newcastle United.Steven Taylor at Newcastle United.
Steven Taylor at Newcastle United.

“We’ve got lads studying, so they can continue to do that. We’ve got a good set of lads. We’re keeping busy playing table tennis every day.”

Taylor’s in constant contact with his own family and friends in Newcastle.

“My family are back in Newcastle, my friends are back there,” said the 34-year-old. “I’m just hoping everyone can stay safe and look after each other back home. It’s not a nice time. It’s horrible seeing it.”

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The squad flew into Sydney on Wednesday and are based close to the city. The team, third in the A-League with six games left to play, will restart their campaign with a behind-closed-doors game against Adelaide United on April 5.

“When we came across, we didn’t know what to expect,” said Taylor, who left Newcastle in 2016 after a long first-team career at his boyhood club. “We’re in isolation. You’re by yourself a lot. We’re lucky we’ve got training pitches so the boys can go out training.

“There’s a gym, so we can keep ourselves occupied. We’ll make do with what we’ve got. To be fair to the boys, we’re getting on with it, and counting down the days until we can actually play again.”

Wellington, at first, weren’t going to be allowed to train during their quarantine period, but the club made representations to the A-League and the relevant authorities, and the team was given permission to work each day in isolation.

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“When we first heard about it, they wanted us to spend two weeks in isolation and play the following day. One of Wellington’s decision was that we were going to travel if that was the situation. You can’t make the players play after two weeks with no training whatsoever, just sitting in their rooms.

“We’ll do these two weeks, and then there’s going to be three games a week. We’ll deal with that.”

Football Federation Australia are are “assessing the ongoing operations” of the league against a backdrop of rising infections.

FFA chief executive officer James Johnson today said: “The health and wellbeing of the players continues to remain our top priority, and we will not be afraid to make decisions to ensure this, no matter how hard they might be.”

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The season, Taylor’s first as captain, had been going well for Wellington, managed by Ufuk Talay.

“Going to the season launch you heard where they thought everyone would be finishing. The Phoenix were written off. We’ve got a very young squad. The start of the season we weren’t getting results, but we were playing good football. We’ve continued to stick to the gameplan, and he’s got us into a fantastic position.

“The boys have been magnificent. It’s been a pleasure playing with them.”

The players are counting the days until they are back playing games, but they know the situation could change very, very quickly.