Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder make coronavirus plea

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder has urged the authorities to suspend the English season rather than play matches behind closed doors as fears about coronavirus continue to grow, arguing that football is “nothing” without fans.

Thursday, 12th March 2020, 4:59 pm

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s Premier League fixture at Newcastle, Wilder conceded it is “inevitable” measures will be introduced to try and control the spread of the disease after three members of Leicester City’s squad were placed in quarantine having displayed symptoms.

Although games are continuing in France, albeit inside empty stadiums, governing bodies in Spain and Italy have already announced their competitions will be placed on hold until the outbreak dies down.

Despite expressing concerns about the effect postponements might have on clubs in the lower reaches of the English Football League, Wilder said: “I’d prefer them to delay the season if it came to that. Because the game is nothing without supporters.

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“We all do it for a reason but the biggest reason is to play in front of supporters, because of the buzz and the excitement they bring to the game. So for me, a delay and an extension to the season would be my preferred option.

“But if it is behind closed doors, then we have to accept that and prepare; no excuses. The backing we get is crucial and vital. I can’t get my head around it (playing without fans) if I’m honest.”

Senior figures at United are concerned that next weekend’s FA Cup quarter-final against Arsenal, which is set to attract a capacity crowd to Bramall Lane, could become the first of their fixtures to be affected if the government does decide to temporarily prohibit fans from grounds.

Wilder, whose side will climb to fifth if they win at St James’ Park, said: “We’d accept what the authorities above us and the experts on this virus say. And we’d respect that.

Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, in front of a packed house at Bramall Lane: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

“As a football man, we want to see packed stadiums. We’re in a great position and going to Newcastle, which is another great environment, for our players. And we’ve enjoyed it as well. If there’s no punters in the stadium, for me that would be a huge blow.”

“The ramifications for some smaller clubs, and I’ve worked at that level, would be huge,” Wilder, who began his managerial career with Alfreton before spells with Halifax, Oxford and Northampton Town, added. “In terms of tickets, people buying programmes and pies and all that.”

A woman and a man wearing facemasks as a preventive mesure against the COVID-19 coronavirus: NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images