First and foremost, my thoughts are constantly with those directly affected by this awful virus, their families, our fantastic National Health Service staff, and everyone else keeping the country going at this time of crisis.
It’s now been one month since our players last kicked a ball, and in that time life as we knew it has been turned on its head.
There is absolutely no doubt that football pales into insignificance at a time such as this. This lockdown will have a major effect on people’s mental health and wellbeing, and I hope that there is positive news soon, especially in relation to us being able to return and finish off the season.
I’d like to talk about the work the club, and indeed the players, have done to help members of our local community. Whilst it’s incredibly commendable, it doesn’t surprise me at all. I’ve been pleased to hear that work in our community has been stepped up even further than usual, and I was particularly keen to learn of club staff efforts in calling more than 1,200 season ticket holders over the age of 70 to check they are ok, have a chat, and offer support. Our local food bank near the stadium has been overwhelmed with demand, and whilst I’m immensely saddened by the reality of the service they provide, I’m pleased that we – as a club - are continuing to support their cause.
I think the players in general have a very generous streak when it comes to charity – they’re never slow to step forward when contributions are needed. I was impressed to learn that off their own backs many weeks ago, they got together to contribute to several local causes – but furthermore, that all players across the league have combined to provide extra funding for the NHS. All of these things are matters which show footballers and football clubs in the light they deserve to be held in.
Our community, and the people around us, are very important to us.
As for me, luckily my wife and I are well. We’re very fortunate to live where we live, in West London, in an apartment which overlooks the River Thames, which is a very pleasant way to spend part of the day, sitting with a book watching the world go by. For our daily walk, we are blessed to be surrounded by parks and green spaces, so we’ve been able to make the best of our lives during this particular period of time.
The club, as it has done for all the players, delivered a bike and some weights so I can construct a simple gym in one of the rooms in the apartment, which gives me some more physical activity over and above my daily walk.
The weather of course is very good at the moment, so we tend to spend a couple of hours in the morning on our balcony reading books. We then normally try to use our makeshift gym facility, one after each other, using the bike to get the heart rate up and get the feeling we’ve done something physical early on in the day. After that we’ll have a lunch, and an early afternoon walk. Then like everybody else, the evenings are spent in front of the television.
I’ve finally got round to watching several interesting documentaries from various football clubs. I watched Manchester City’s All or Nothing, then Leeds United’s Take Us Home which I very much enjoyed. I found a Maradona documentary, then caught up with the one done some while ago with QPR’s Four Year Plan, which was a bit of a debacle! Now I’m halfway through Sunderland ‘til I Die.
It’s been bringing it home to me watching these documentaries, even more so than usual, the incredible passion of football fans, and how people really live for football. There are lots of forms of entertainment, but the one form that really does bring everyone together is football. Everybody is surely missing the game enormously, and like us, I’m sure they will be hopeful that every effort is being placed on bringing it back as soon as possible, once it’s safe to do so.
Everyone is in total agreement we need an end to this season. We don’t want artificial means of deciding who wins the league, who gets into the Champions League, who gets relegated and promoted.
Ideally our players would have three or four weeks’ minimum to prepare for the first match back, but I accept there may have to be a squeeze on that timeframe. It might mean extra restrictions at our place of work - the training ground - for example. It may also mean that we have to play our nine remaining matches in a shorter period of time than we normally would have done, and subsequently receive a shorter break between the seasons. But I think with all of these sacrifices – and I am uncomfortable using that word in such a context - everyone will be more than happy to go along with what it takes in order to get playing again as soon as possible in order to get the season finished.
It will be a very joyous occasion at Beckenham when we get to train again together as a group and prepare for the remaining matches, and I’m 100% sure that our fans will be very happy to see Crystal Palace play again, especially at Selhurst Park.
During this period, each of the players have been given personalised programmes, and are doing a lot of work to keep their fitness up. We are in constant touch with the players, as am I with my coaching staff – Scott, Ray, Dean and Dave. Each player reports in to a sports scientist with updates, and we watch their videos and get their feedback. They are doing their utmost to stay physically fit. But it’s not football fit, when there’s a ball involved and you’re playing with people and against people.
I’ve spoken to every player and will continue to do so – even if I don’t have anything specific to say to them, other than general encouragement and sharing my hope that they and their family are keeping safe and well during this period.
I’d like to end with a message for all of our supporters. I’d urge you all to continue to observe the government guidelines. We aren’t medical health experts, but we’re being told that in order to keep this epidemic at a manageable level, we must be careful in terms of our interaction. If people flaunt the guidelines, the measures risk being been more draconian. We all have a part to play in this.
I know that all of you are missing football every bit as much as we are, but this time will pass. I can’t give a timeline of course, but it will definitely pass as long as everyone ‘plays the game’. When we get back together we’ll have a group of players who are raring to go and do their best for the remainder of this season to finish strongly. It’s been a good season so far, and we’re more than happy with it. But we’re going to be working really hard to ensure the last nine games don’t see a slide in our performance. We’ll come back motivated, and I have everything crossed that we will be playing in front of you, our magnificent supporters at Selhurst Park as soon as the government and authorities deem it safe to do so.
Finally, a word on our magnificent NHS. One simply cannot praise the staff too highly, in my opinion. I’ve always been a huge supporter of the NHS, they do and have always done a fantastic job. We’re so lucky in this country to have a system like it, I’ve always felt that we do have a fantastic service and now it’s being demonstrated to everyone so clearly, that the resources we put in are well spent. I hope it might in future make us more aware that if you want this level of service, it needs a certain level of economic support – and I’m hopeful it will come from our taxes. We can’t rely on the NHS being funded by charities or people making donations – it’s nice that such individuals and organisations are doing so, and I’m full of praise for those who are doing it – but the work they’re doing is quite incredible and needs adequate resourcing. The praise they’re getting however enormous it is, will never be enough. The job that doctors and nurses do is something you only fully appreciate at times like this, or when you are in need of help. To each and every one of them, thank you.
Stay safe everyone. I greatly look forward to seeing you again at Selhurst Park, hopefully in the not too distant future.