The inside story of how Newcastle United's players returned to training
There’s a new morning routine for Newcastle United’s players.
It involves a mobile phone app, an infra-red thermometer and a checklist – and everything must be done before 9am.
The club’s squad, which this week returned to small-group, socially-distanced training following a two months at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, must take their temperature and enter it into the app along with any symptoms, travel and contact with people.
If they are cleared to go to work, their screen will turn green.
At the security gates at the club’s training ground, the guard will check the screen. The barrier will only be raised if they are shown a green screen.
Waiting them in the car park, where each player has an allocated space, is club doctor headshield-wearing Paul Catterson with an infra-red thermometer for a final check.
Only then can a player, already in training gear, take to the adjacent pitches.
This is just the first phase of a complex and challenging Premier League restart plan, but it’s so far, so good, according to Catterson, who worked on the medical protocols with a number of other senior doctors.
“It’s been really exciting to get back,” said Catterson. “There’s been a lot of work to get to this point. There are a lot of policies and procedures that we’ve had to implement.
“It’s been tough going the last couple of weeks, but it’s actually great to finally get back out on the pitch and see them all in good shape and raring to go.”
United’s players – who all tested negative for coronavirus last weekend – have “bought into” the procedures that have been put in place to ensure their safety.
“They’ve been really good, and I’m not just saying that,” said Catterson. “Everyone’s been in good spirits. I don’t know if it’s just because we’re back as a group and back on grass instead of running in the local park or on a treadmill.
“There’s been a really good buy-in from the players and staff. I think they’ve all realised they’ve all got their part to play in it. Everyone seems genuinely excited at the prospect of football maybe returning in a number of weeks.”
Newcastle closed their training ground on March 13 when the Premier League was suspended ahead of a home game against Sheffield United.
“The process basically started on March 13 when we gave them individual plans,” said Catterson. “We closed the training ground immediately. They were given individual programmes with heart-rate watchers which have fed back into a database. We’ve had to manage the group remotely.
“I’ve been on a senior group at the Premier League, a group of senior doctors, to mould the response and get a flavour of what people are thinking in terms of the practicalities.
“We’ve done a lot of work on that. The Premier League have done a standard operating policy, which we’ve then had to form into our own operational policy at the club. It’s taken a lot of work, especially over the last couple of weeks.”
United defender Danny Rose has questioned the Premier League’s restart plan – and also claimed that footballers are being treated like “lab rats”.
Catterson – who is urging vigilance – has tried to allay fears and concerns within the squad amid a daily death toll from the virus which still runs into the hundreds.
“There have been some concerns on an individual level, but that’s human nature and I completely respect that,” said Catterson. “We’re all different. We all live in different home circumstances, and it’s important to allay those fears.
“The only way to allay those fears, really, is to make sure that we’re really adhering to the procedures.”
The Bundesliga restarted last weekend, and Catterson and his Premier League colleagues have been sharing information with other their counterparts in Germany and the USA.
“We’ve shared a lot amongst the medical officers, and I’ve been speaking to people at NBA (National Basketball League) as well and Major League Baseball and in different countries,” said Catterson.
“Germany have taken the lead, but the only thing that I would say is that the impact of Covid-19 on society in Germany is slightly different to how it’s impacted the UK. They’ve been very good with the sharing of information.
“There really is this common sense of sharing and no-one is getting a competitive advantage from this, because it’s for the good of everybody that were able to proceed.”
The Premier League, which has 92 games left to play, hopes to restart next month. However, if that is to happen that clubs must safely return to contact training.
“I think it’s only realistic if the players and staff at Newcastle United, and also across the league, remain vigilant both inside and outside the training ground,” said Catterson.
“We have to prove to the Government and wider society that we are able to take on these roles and responsibilities and policies that we’ve put in place.
“The worst thing possible would be to see a rise in the number of positives, but if we’re able to demonstrate that we’re able to adhere to these policies then we can possibly move on to the next stage, which would be contact training.
“That’s being worked upon at the moment. We’ve done a bit of planning already so that we’ll be ready for when it comes. Getting to each stage is the most important thing – and not becoming complacent.”