Why Sheffield United received permission to skip their usual duties, but declined

Top-flight clubs including Sheffield United were granted permission to introduce measures designed to guard against the spread of coronavirus before the fixture programme was suspended amid the global pandemic.

Sunday, 22nd March 2020, 2:00 pm

One, allowing them to call an indefinite halt to both pre and post match media conferences, reveals how seriously the game was taking the growing health crisis before matches across England’s leading four divisions were postponed earlier this month.

Managers and players in the PL are obliged to meet with competition rights holders under the terms of its agreement with various domestic and overseas broadcasters.

But a source attached to one team in the south of the country has told The Star that all of its leading 20 sides received special dispensation to ignore these instructions, if they so wished, more than a week ago. The step, the individual concerned explained, meant coaching staff could limit their respective squads’ exposure to folk who could unwittingly be carrying the virus and therefore prevent players being quarantined.

Arsenal, who had been scheduled to visit Bramall Lane in the FA Cup quarter-finals today, were forced to place a number of their employees in isolation when Mikel Arteta, the Londoners’ head coach, tested positive. Chelsea, whose scheduled trip to South Yorkshire on April 26 must now also be rearranged, did likewise after it emerged forward Callum Hudson-Odoi had also contracted the respiratory disease. The two men, whose diagnoses effectively prompted the PL and English Football League to call a halt to matches, have since confirmed they are recovering.

In the event, it seems very few clubs accepted the invitation to curtail their usual media duties.

Manager Chris Wilder held his weekly press briefing 24 hours before learning United’s meeting with Newcastle two weekend’s ago had fallen victim to the worsening situation while 24 hours later Steve Bruce, his counterpart at St James’ Park, also addressed journalists.

The blanket suspension was initially supposed to be lifted on April 4 but a joint statement, issued on behalf of the PL, the EFL and the Football Association, has now stated that will not happen “no earlier than 30 April.”

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder: George Wood/Getty Images

It also contained a commitment to “finding ways of resuming the 2019/20 football season and ensuring all domestic and European club league and cup matches are played as soon as it is safe and possible to do so”; seemingly lessening the likelihood of the season being abandoned.

United are seventh in the table - five points behind Chelsea - having played a game less than all but one of the seven clubs above them in the rankings.

"The progress of COVID-19 remains unclear and we can reassure everyone the health and welfare of players, staff and supporters are our priority," the statement continued. "We will continue to follow government advice and work collaboratively to keep the situation under review and explore all options available to find ways of resuming the season when the conditions allow.

"We would all like to re-emphasise that our thoughts are with everyone affected by COVID-19."

Bramall Lane is closed to the public