As the football world reflects on the implications of the coronavirus crisis, Bernie Slaven shares his thoughts on the best way forward.
The fixture suspension makes sense but the season must be completed
Health comes first and foremost, that’s paramount, so the decision to halt the season for the time being makes sense.
The right decision has been made. Where will this lead? Nobody knows, everybody’s speculating, I’ve seen and heard all the opinions on social media but my opinion is the season has to finish no matter when we get back.
North and south of the border Celtic and Liverpool are way ahead but not mathematically done and dusted. You can’t just hand somebody the title in my opinion. So I think we have to finish the season.
Contract issues could seriously affect Boro’s chances
The season could stretch into June and July and my fear of that happening is, as far as Middlesbrough are concerned, will Jonathan Woodgate be seven or more players down if games have to be played after contracts lapse on July 1 and the loanees have to return to their parent clubs?
As things stand those players affected, the likes of Dani Ayala and Jonny Howson, could just walk away because it’s in their contracts. And what about the loan players? That was my first train of thought.
So although I believe the season must be completed, we could be playing a game or two missing six, seven, eight players potentially!
It’s not the ideal scenario, in fact it’s a nightmare scenario. But it’s the world we are currently living in and we need to cope with it, we need to deal with it.
Only play behind closed doors as a last resort
I know it’s not the ideal scenario, but for health reasons yes, go for it, play behind closed doors if that’s the only way clubs can fulfil their duties, but it’s not ideal, it would have to be a last resort.
As a lifelong football fan, I want the supporters to be there once the games start again. Without the fans there is no game, simple as that.
I remember the late, great Celtic boss Jock Stein saying that when I was a young boy. There is no game without the fans and I totally agree with that. No atmosphere, empty seats and terraces, no noise from the stands.
We saw it the other week with Manchester United’s Europa League fixture and it’s happened before.
I once played for Middlesbrough against Celtic at Parkhead behind closed doors. I can’t remember why we played in an empty stadium but it was a pre-season game when Bruce Rioch was our manager.
It was weird, bizarre. I went as a kid to watch Celtic play in front of 60,000 fans so it was strange when there was nobody there.
It’s like a performer going onto stage and the theatre’s empty. There’s no atmosphere at all and the players would find it very difficult.
Every club has neglected the fans over the years and taken them for granted, in my opinion.
Look at the way kick-off times are moved, they swap dates and times without any consideration for the effect it can have on the supporters. I’ve been saying this for years.
But, by God, I tell you what, you miss the supporters when they aren’t there.
The players must stay fit – at home or at the training ground
The players need to train and stay in form because the season could start at any time. When it does they will need to be ready, especially taking into account Boro’s position in the table!
If the players have to train at home it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. At the end of the day, whether the players are training collectively or individually, they are getting well paid so shouldn’t need any motivation to stay fit.
I once had to train on my own at Stewart Park. I had a ding-dong with Lennie Lawrence and he told me to go and train on my own, I wasn’t welcome at the training ground so I would go and train on my own.
I think there was a picture in the Gazette of me running up a hill in Stewart Park on my own.
I was a dedicated trainer anyway, I wanted to be fit and I’m still in reasonable shape now.
I was never the greatest player in the world but there’s no excuse not to be fit.
Look at Ronaldo, he is a brilliant player, world class, but when you look at him it’s obvious that he’s also super-fit!
When I was a player it wasn’t hard for me to motivate myself to train during the off-season but for some players it was.
I remember players who would go on holiday and not train at all. I can remember going to Ayresome Park with a team-mate about five days before we were due to report back for pre-season training so I could do a few laps of the pitch.
We got the guy who locked the gates to let us in and the guy I was with, who shall remain nameless, immediately laid flat out on the grass while I did laps and sprints up and down the pitch for 40-odd minutes getting a right old sweat on.
When we reported back to training he was knackered, being sick, and I was fine!
So I don’t get why those players didn’t just keep fit all the time. But their train of thought was, ‘It’s going to be hard anyway so what’s the point. That’s what pre-season’s for’.
I used to train when I was on holiday because I knew when I reported back for pre-season training it was going to be hard.
You always knew the players who hadn’t been keeping fit once we returned for training because they would be the ones way at the back being sick during the cross country runs.
But the modern day players now stay fit pretty much all year round so should be able to adapt to the latest, exceptional circumstances, without too many problems.