Premier League's dilemma over Covid

The Norwich players celebrate at the end of the Sky Bet Championship match at Carrow Road, Norwich

The last time Norwich City played in front of empty stands - the final home game of the Championship winning season of 2020-21 - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Chris Sutton (a pundit you can trust ….) emerged from the footballing subculture this week to deliver a truism if ever there was one. 

The former Canaries striker and a man who now rates as one of the very best in football analysis on TV and radio, was commenting on football and Covid vaccinations. 

“Whether we agree or disagree with footballers or anybody not getting vaccinated, it is their choice and I’m pretty sure that everyone would have a good reason why they have made that particular decision.” 

When someone disagreed with Sutton, he added: “I’ve been vaccinated and personally think people should be vaccinated but people have their reasons so we have to respect this whether we agree or not. It would help if Premier League players came out and said why they are not getting vaccinated though.” 

I think people should be vaccinated. A good friend thinks they shouldn’t. Another is ambivalent. Another does what he is told.  

Premier League players do have a right to remain silent, but there is also a salient fact: they are admired and followed by tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of young people who will be influenced by everything they say and do.  

Should footballers need to explain themselves – especially as we are told that only seven of England's 20 top-flight clubs have more than 50pc of their squad fully vaccinated? 

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Clubs and players can keep their medical records private. That’s understood. But when 82pc of over-16s have had two doses of the vaccine, the reported Premier League figures make odd reading. Why are they so low? 

Norwich City are one of the clubs who have declined to give details of who has or hasn’t been vaccinated, but it’s understood that just about every player has had at least one jab. 

Pat Nevin – likewise an excellent media pundit – was less than happy with the Premier League figures. 

“It absolutely infuriates me... Everyone's bent over backwards to get football back on and of course football's done a lot of good things for people during the pandemic, who needed something to do and watched the game and they put themselves out.  

“But to not then be vaccinated and help secure other people's safety as well as their own. I have to say I'm gobsmacked. I'm really upset about it.” 

Football grounds are packed to the rafters as if the pandemic has gone away, and players are no longer being told not to hug or spit or kiss or whatever they want to do. Yet we have a lot of players not vaccinated. 

Fans can be packed in like sardines, but they do not have to prove they have had jabs - the vaccine passports plan for large gatherings was shelved by the government and while there are spot-checks at grounds, there is no firm evidence that fans will be turned away if they don’t have proof of vaccination. 

With winter approaching, officials want to ensure the elite level of the game is one step ahead of any stricter regulation that the Government may introduce. They’ve even told clubs they are working on some sort of incentive scheme for an increased vaccination take-up among players. 

Clearly, the Premier League want to see all seats filled and the kissing to continue so are determined that football should not be singled out as an activity which has not taken every precaution necessary. They want to be one step ahead of any stricter government regulations – just as they were last year, even if the game did suffer a few bruises when it played on behind closed doors. 

They will be ready. The Premier League‘s advice on ‘Covid-19 protocol for fans’ is: “In its Winter Plan, the government has indicated that it may implement additional measures to curb the transmission of Covid 19. One of those measures may be the introduction of vaccine-only Covid certification. In that case, we expect that supporters attending Premier League matches may only be able to demonstrate adequate Covid status if they are fully vaccinated.” 

As far as some people are concerned, stricter measures are the right thing to do, but would it not need to be matched by the un-vaccinated players? Would their activities be restricted if they are not jabbed? 

A person’s right not to be vaccinated - be it a player or a fan – could be seriously challenged this winter. 


Really, Earnie?

Robert Earnshaw says he is ready to go into football management – let's hope he’s right. 

Why anyone would want to do it I have no idea. 

Earnie, scored 27 goals in 41 starts for Norwich during an 18-month spell that ended in the summer of 2007. The Welshman has completed his Uefa Pro Licence and is looking forward to the next stage of his career. 

"I am ready to be a manager," he told Sky Sports. "I have confidence in my own ability. We started [the Pro Licence] in May 2020 and it has been a long process to get to the end of it.” 

Just don’t go to Watford, Earnie. They’ve just sacked Xisco Munoz after 10 months in charge, during which time they earned promotion, behind the Canaries, to the top flight. 

It is Watford’s 13th change of boss since the Pozzo family took over as owners in 2012. 

As a team they are doing pretty well – 15th in the table. As a club they are shockers. 


No Brucie bonus...

Talking of managers, you wonder where the takeover of Newcastle United leaves Steve Bruce. 

His position as manager at St James’s Park has been tenuous for a while – seems the locals have never really taken to him, even though he is considered ‘one of their own’. 

It’s been a pretty ludicrous state of affairs up there, with Mike Ashley, the owner since 2007 and a man they all seem to hate, and what appears to be the longest sale in history, beating many at some of the High Street shops he owns. 

Anyway, Brucie will do well to survive this one: Newcastle is now in the hands of Saudi Arabia which despite its human rights record, seems to be ok with the FA.  

It might just be the end of the managerial line for the former Canaries defender, which would be a shame: always came across as a thoroughly decent bloke. Which is somewhat ironic in the context of the Newcastle United story. 

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