English football reaches crisis point as Covid shutdown looms large once again

Tottenham have offered use of their stadium to the NHS as a site for coronavirus vaccinations (Steve Parsons/PA)

Tottenham have offered use of their stadium to the NHS as a site for coronavirus vaccinations (Steve Parsons/PA)

Kevin Palmer

Newcastle manager Steve Bruce and Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa have questioned whether the Premier League should continue as the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to overwhelm England's NSH hospitals.

Another 1,325 deaths were record on Friday and an additional 68,053 people were confirmed to have the virus, with football one of the few industries trying to carry on amid a desperate situation around the country.

Bielsa admitted there was a moral argument for suspending elite-level football due to the current spike in coronavirus cases.

Newcastle counterpart Steve Bruce said in an earlier press conference on Friday that "financially it's right but maybe morally it's wrong" for the game to continue.

Bielsa, whose side play at Crawley in the third round of the FA Cup on Sunday, agreed there were two sides to the debate.

"That's a very difficult question," he said. "To give you an answer on the morality of the decision, I don't feel capable of doing it.

"It's very difficult to say that it's wrong and it's also very difficult to say that it's correct.

"It's good that football continues because you're giving entertainment to those who are affected, and not affected, in the population.

"But you can also say that, for example, if one of the children of a football player becomes infected because they have continued to play football…

"That's why the authorities who are responsible for all the segments in the country make these decisions."

West Brom manager Sam Allardyce suggested elite football should be suspended at the end of last month over concerns for his own health and "football in general".

Bielsa said: "I understand the comment that Sam Allardyce made – it's an absolutely logical thought.

"With regards to a possible circuit-breaker, I think those who are in charge, the authorities and the Government, I don't think they take risks."

Bruce admitted he was conflicted about continuing the season, adding: "We have had two players who were very, very sick and one or two members of staff who were nearly hospitalised.

"It's not been easy but yes we'll keep going along – financially it's right but maybe morally it's wrong.

"All of us are suffering and we are the lucky ones providing an entertainment that people are tuning into to watch, but there will come a stage where we have to make a decision, we hope in the next two or three weeks, (because) we don't want to see these outbreaks."

Non-league clubs in England are preparing to shut down their seasons and declare all results of games played so far as null and void, with some clubs in the bottom two divisions of the Football League also believed to be considering whether they can continue.

Burnley manager Sean Dyche suggested players could be vaccinated and to plough the money saved on testing into the NHS.

The Clarets boss said: "I appreciate some people will be surprised by that comment and people will say: 'Why should footballers get vaccinations?'

"But the amount of money being spent on testing in the Premier League, if that was channelled back into the NHS and into the vaccination system, surely that's a better place to be than continually testing footballers."

Meanwhile, Crystal Palace have confirmed Selhurst Park will be used by the NHS. The stadium will become one of London's biggest vaccination venues when it opens later this month.

Chairman Steve Parish said: "We are proud to be playing our part in helping the NHS deliver the vaccine to as many people as possible as quickly as possible."

The EFL has also been hit by a raft of postponements over the last month, and on Friday it announced there had been 112 positives from 3,507 tests carried out on players and staff from 66 EFL clubs in the last week.

With games set to be played almost every day for the rest of this season and clubs try to cram in matches before next summer's European Championship finals, it seems increasingly likely that some kind of break in the season is now imminent.

What happens next is anyone's guess.

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