Sheffield United's Chris Basham on coronavirus, footballing uncertainty and social responsibilities
After 10 minutes or so of pleasantries and advice on how to navigate through Skype, Chris Basham’s face appeared in the corner of our computer screens before, following the briefest of pauses, the inquisition began.
This is how players communicate with the media during the coronavirus era. Staring into the lens on his laptop camera, the Sheffield United defender spent half an hour telling journalists, from a footballer’s perspective, what it is like to be isolated at home with a young family.
“I’m back up in Newcastle and locked away at the moment,” Basham admitted. “I’ve not got it. None of us have. But it’s important we all do what’s right and follow all the Government advice.”
Basham cut a pretty upbeat figure as, seated behind a table in his clearly well-appointed kitchen, he answered a series of quick-fire questions. Subjects ranged from the lighthearted - ‘Which of your team mates are you missing the most?’ - to serious discussions about finance and politics.
But most, with competition suspended until next month at the earliest, focused on how Chris Wilder’s squad are attempting to stay mentally sharp and physically fit.
“Everything is still really structured,” Basham explained. “We all had watt bikes delivered to our houses and the club made sure we’ve got the best of everything.
“In a morning we get up, have breakfast and make sure we’ve got our heart monitors on. We’re not allowed to eat before we get on the bike though. Then we’ve got to do the exercise programmes we’ve been given and all the information gets fed through via an app we’ve got on our phones.
“There’s weights and other stuff too. We do weights in the evening. So we always end up getting a sweat on. And we’ve all been given diet sheets as well, relating to us as individuals, to make sure we’re eating the right things.”
One of the best athletes at United, Basham admitted he finds the uncertainty of not knowing when the fixtures schedule will resume is more challenging that the training programmes Wilder’s conditioning department have devised. With that in mind, he also revealed how his colleagues are rallying around the likes of Sander Berge, Panos Retsos and Richairo Zivkovic who, after arriving from overseas during the January transfer window, find themselves trapped in a country and a city they are still getting to know.
“It must be particularly hard for them,” Basham said. “So Billy (Sharp) has been putting things on a WhatsApp group we’ve got for them, telling them how to get fresh food and where to get it from, stuff like that. They won’t really know their way around yet and they won’t be with their families either. So we’re making sure they have all the information we need.
“There’s other stuff been going on there as well. We’ve been setting each other little challenges. The other day, Billy put something up with him lifting crates of Heineken. It just makes me realise what a good group, and a really tight group, we’ve got.”
“The mental aspect is probably the hardest thing,” Basham continued. “Because we don’t know when things are going to start again and we don’t want to just give up. But then there’s also the worry about people close to you getting the virus as well. If anyone in the family gets it, you’re going to be mentally broke as well.”
United had climbed to seventh in the table and were preparing for an FA Cup quarter-final against Arsenal when the shutdown was announced.
Having initially continued to train at the Steelphalt Academy, Basham described the moment when, as the health situation worsened nationwide, United’s players were forced to go their separate ways.
“On Friday, it was a bit of a blur and we got told about the contingency plan,” he remembered. “The Government said what they did and then we got messages on our group chat saying we’d be getting the bikes out, doing the programmes and that there’d be fines if we didn’t stick to them.”
Basham has also been using his time to ensure members of the community in his native North-East are looked after following the Prime Minister’s decision to introduce social distancing and other measures designed to limit the spread of contagion.
“Me and my wife went around the doors but got to be so careful that we’re not carrying the virus,” he said. “So it really just shutting off from the world, I told my mam to stay at home and if she needs help let us know
“Family is the most important thing. You take a step back and realise how much family means to you. As footballers, we’ve got whole world looking at you but family is so close to you as well.”