The PM's address was a game-changer for Sheffield United and other leading clubs

It was towards the end of last week when the bikes, which had been ordered to help their squad stay fit at home if the country was placed into lockdown, first began arriving at Sheffield United’s training complex.

Tuesday, 24th March 2020, 11:24 am
Updated Tuesday, 24th March 2020, 4:06 pm

Stacked in the foyer, waiting to be dispatched if the Government ratcheted-up its response to the coronavirus crisis, they were the most visible sign Chris Wilder had planned for every possible scenario.

Although the Prime Minister stopped short of completely pulling down the shutters and hauling up the drawbridge during his sombre address to the nation last night, Boris Johnson’s call for people to only leave home where “absolutely necessary” meant, even before he finished speaking, the equipment was probably being loaded into the back of a club crested van and then delivered to every player who needed one.

United, like many clubs across England’s leading four divisions, had been attempting to keep their schedules as normal as possible since the decision was taken to suspend the fixture calendar. But changes in the public mood over the past 48 hours or so mean those continuing to gather for workouts and kickabouts risk offending society’s sensibilities. Even though, as they rigorously enforced medical advice and social distancing protocols, they were doing nothing wrong at the time.

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Steve Bettis, United’s chief executive, issued an updated statement on the ever-changing situation this morning. It confirmed the club’s new shop at Meadowhall had also temporarily closed, as per the PM’s advice.

"The decisions taken by the Government have been made in the interests of health and well-being of everyone and as a club we have a responsibility to help prevent further spread of the virus, hence the measures that have been taken,” he said.

"We will continue to take guidance from relevant authorities throughout this period and will attempt to assist with every effort as we navigate these unprecedented challenges.

"On behalf of the board of directors, Chris Wilder and all of the team, we hope that Blades supporters stay safe and well in this difficult time and we thank everyone for the measures that they have taken so far.”

Sheffield United do not know when they will return to Premier League or FA Cup action: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

"As we look to overcome these challenges, the Blades will continue to work closely with the Premier League and medical staff within the club to keep our supporters informed with all the latest relevant developments,” Bettis added. “Public health remains the biggest priority at this time and we urge everyone to follow best practices."

Seventh in the table and in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, United had been about to enter a critical and potentially history-making stage of their campaign when competition ground to a halt. Although it remains unclear if top-flight sides received similar guidance, those in the English Football League are understood to have been discouraged from continuing to train in groups over the weekend.

United are believed to have devised a series of fitness individually tailored fitness programmes, capable of being relayed via laptops and mobile phones, to help those under Wilder’s command remain mentally and physically sharp until matches resume.

Tickets and hospitality packages which had already been sold for the last eight tie against Arsenal, whose head coach Mikel Arteta recently tested positive for the virus, remain valid, Bettis reminded. The same, he confirmed, applies to those for the away trip to Newcastle. Refunds, United have advised, will not be available until the fixtures are rescheduled.

A screen grab of Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressing the nation from 10 Downing Street, London: PA Video/PA Wire
Sheffield United's manager Chris Wilder and chief executive Steve Bettis (R): Scott Merrylees