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Coronavirus: This is the match of our lives

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Saturday marked exactly one week since the postponement of our home fixture against Pickering Town.

For many of us it will feel more like a lifetime since we were preparing for a football match, such has been the pace of events in the past week or so and the almost overnight changes to everything that we have taken for granted.

COLFC was granted a postponement on 14th March due to the corona virus impacting upon our matchday squad. However, the board of directors had resolved, that come what may, we did not believe that it was safe or in the interests of public health to fulfil this fixture.

With the cancellation of Premier League and Football League football, we may have attracted an attendance in the region of 450. We were not comfortable with the prospect of seeking to socially distance people in a crowd of that size. How were we to manage entry to the clubhouse and the facilities inside, such as the toilets? How were we to ensure the distancing and safety of our older fans, those with disabilities and those with underlying health conditions? Were we supposed to proceed, with a bumper attendance, but without supporters and volunteers who’ve followed this club everywhere since its inception?

The health and wellbeing of our playing and coaching staff was a huge concern. Placing 43 people, those being two playing squads and coaching teams plus three match officials, into three small rooms before the match, at half time and post-match did not seem a very wise move. We looked at PFA guidance and realised that there was no way we could manage the changing rooms to the standards that the professionals were demanding for their health and safety. If those standards were required for the health and safety of professional players, why would our players and staff be safe and well against the same viral threat with standards that would fall well below PFA guidance? We also considered an option being mooted in cricket, with players arriving already in kit and not using the changing rooms. This was clearly not a realistic proposition.

 

In short, the prospect of playing matches under the threat of the corona virus was untenable. This placed the club in a precarious position. The FAW had cancelled all football at all levels in Wales. However the FA, “following government guidance”, left the decision to continue with fixtures up to individual leagues to determine. With Premier League and Football League matches cancelled, we were hopeful that the Northern Premier League would follow suit. Alas, this was not to be and a postponement was sought and granted. In the event of this not being granted, the board of directors was unanimous in agreeing that COLFC would not be fulfilling the fixture. This position was taken in the knowledge that refusal to fulfil a fixture can carry heavy sanctions.

The directors were observing events leading up to Saturday 14th March with increasing concern. The UK government’s “herd immunity” strategy was drawing increasing criticism from trusted voices, like Professor John Ashton, and was clearly flying in the face of what the World Health Organisation was urging governments to do. The decision to play the Liverpool v Atletico Madrid fixture in front of a crowd including 3000 fans from Madrid was nothing short of reckless and Barney Ronay wrote in The Guardian on 13th March:

“The UK has embraced the notion that herd immunity can be developed by exposing healthy hosts to the virus and surrounding it with those who have already processed it through their system. In effect, the government wants you to contract this disease. Sport was to be left alone as part of this, both a high-functioning industry and an existing tool of transmission through the entire populace that the government believes is inevitable.”

COLFC was not prepared to risk the health and wellbeing of supporters, volunteers, players and staff by being part of “the herd” for this misguided and potentially catastrophic policy. A policy that subsequently disintegrated on Monday 16th March, when it was revealed that “following the science” actually meant following the wrong science, “science” that the government’s own advisors say could have cost 250,000 lives! The government’s policy had been based on modelling the wrong data and, thankfully, drastic changes in direction have subsequently ensued. Nevertheless, it is regrettable that the FA chose not to follow the lead of the top 92 clubs and, instead, passed a crucial public health decision down to league committees, largely lacking any professional public health input, to stand or fall on their own uninformed decisions.

Effectively, and for the foreseeable future, COLFC is not so much a football club as a community organisation, mobilising alongside others in the Liverpool City Region social and solidarity economy to support those who are most vulnerable during these unprecedented times. On Friday, with donations from our sponsors Regenda and PLS Food Foundation, COLFC Community volunteers packed and delivered food parcels to elderly people in isolation. COLFC Community is now collecting funds to purchase food to enable this service to continue for as long as is required:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/purple-pantry-local-food-emergency-drops?utm_source=whatsapp&utm_medium=chat&utm_campaign=p_cf+share-flow-1

In addition to providing links to information on the corona virus itself, the club’s Welfare Officer is using social media to provide links to sources of guidance and support for people who may feel that their mental health and wellbeing is being affected by the current crisis.

For updates and opportunities to contribute, volunteer or help out in any way please follow:

                @COLFCcommunity

                @ColfcWelfare

In the meantime, COLFC urges members, supporters, players and staff to look after themselves and their loved ones by following the strictest guidance on social distancing and the isolation of our vulnerable elders, those with disabilities and those with health conditions. We also urge everybody to do whatever they can to make sure our vulnerable neighbours are safe and well.

This is the match of our lives.

COLFC Board of Directors

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