Revealed: The measures being taken at Newcastle United following the Premier League's suspension
The Prime Minister, flanked by his medical and scientific advisers at Downing Street, revealed that sporting events would not yet be postponed or played behind closed doors. The Premier League responded with a statement insisting the weekend’s fixtures would go ahead as planned.
“We were sitting watching the TV yesterday and the news came through from the Prime Minister, and we all thought ‘OK’,” said Bruce. “But, even at that stage, we were saying ‘well, what happens if one of the players gets it?’.”
As it turned out, his question was quickly answered after it was revealed that Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi had tested positive for the virus. Three Leicester City players have also been tested after showing symptoms.
Bruce added: “It was inevitable, wasn’t it?”
The Premier League held an emergency meeting yesterday and postponed games until April 4 “subject to medical advice and conditions at the time”.
Newcastle – who last week qualified for an FA Cup quarter-final for the first time in 14 years – had been proactively planning for a suspension of the fixture list given the fast spread of the virus.
The club has drawn up personal fitness programmes for the players, who will stay away from the training ground, for the time being, unless they need treatment for injuries.
“We’ve been talking about what will happen if everything is suspended for two weeks, four weeks,” said United’s head coach, who held a press conference before this afternoon’s Premier League home game against Sheffield United was postponed.
“I’d imagine the plan would be for the players to go away with their own individual programmes, to take them away from here because we are on top of each other.
“There are 70 or 80 of us in quite a confined space. If one of them got infected when they were away from the training ground, and then came back in, clearly that would be an issue. It’s so contagious, apparently.
“We’ve set the personal programmes in place – they’re ready to go. I think that’s what the doctors of all the clubs are recommending.
“Up until yesterday, we thought we were fine (to play), but when the news broke (about Arteta) it was obvious the situation had changed. Once we heard about that, and Leicester and now Chelsea, we knew things had moved on.”
The club’s training ground was sprayed with disinfectant on Sunday ahead of the players’ return to work on Tuesday following last Saturday’s 1-0 win over Southampton at the St Mary’s Stadium. Allan Saint-Maximin’s late winner had sealed a memorable week for Bruce, who was previously under-pressure following a poor run of league results.
Within days, the mood had changed at the training ground, where hand sanitisers had been installed some time ago.
“We’ve always had to guard against things, anyway,” said Bruce, whose side is 13th in the Premier League. “It’s not the biggest building, 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 (United’s first-team coach) didn’t come to the Man United game because he was sick – we had a few at Christmas time.”
Will the players be allowed to go on holiday – or to visit families overseas? Bruce, and the squad, will be guided Paul Catterson, the club’s doctor.
“The players’ well being will be paramount, but they’ve also got to think about the well-being of their families too,” said the 59-year-old. “I’ll be guided by the medical advice, and a chat with our doctors, but whether you stay in this country or go abroad, you run the risk (of contracting the virus). I’ll ask the doctor.
“If the players are needing physio, or are having a course of treatment, I would think they’ll be coming into the training ground. Again, that’s something we’ll be advised on.”
Bruce had been adamant that it would be wrong to play games behind closed doors before the league’s suspension.
“You play for football to be in front of our fans – there would have been 52,000 there,” said Bruce. “Playing behind closed doors is not the answer, in my opinion. For me, suspend it, shut it down and rearrange it for another day where we’re more aware of the situation.
“It’s all about the supporters, really, and their welfare is more important than anything. The idea of playing in front of nobody doesn’t appeal at all. For me, you suspend it and wait until we’ve got the all-clear.
“I think that’s the only viable solution to it. When you’ve got players and managers affected, how are they going to play their game? For me, the only answer is to shut it down, suspend it and wait.”