Millwall boss gives his opinion as coronavirus brings English football to a halt – and is convinced campaigns should be completed

BY RICHARD CAWLEY
richard@slpmedia.co.uk

Gary Rowett reckons the domestic football season needs to be completed – even if that means the remaining fixtures taking place in empty stadiums.

The Premier League and EFL have announced that there will be no fixtures until at least April 3 due to the spread of the coronavirus.

All of the Millwall players and management team had been tested and as of yesterday all were negative – as were the club’s directors, who had been self-isolating last week after Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis had contracted the virus. The two clubs had met at the City Ground just days earlier.

The question is what happens next, with many of those inside the game believing that football will not resume next month. There had been suggestions that promotion and relegation should be decided on current standings.

Lions manager Rowett said: “Let’s say, for example, that you just dropped into the bottom three after the last game, the season finishes now and you are relegated – I think that is pretty unfair.

“That team could have been above the relegation zone for 35 games, drop in for one week and all of a sudden they are relegated. From a legal perspective there are potentially so many challenges.

“Football is about the fans. The last thing we want is playing games behind closed doors. But, at the same time, if there is not going to be any football for the next four or five months then there would still be some for people to watch at a time when people need something positive and something they can look forward to.

“I know it is not ideal, but doing it behind closed doors at least keeps the season going, at least until they feel it is safe to bring the fans back.

“I don’t think anyone truly wants that but it’s difficult to see a scenario where we come back in August or September and the season restarts with nine games to go.

“For me the only sensible scenario is that at some point in the next six weeks we start playing games, whether or not that is behind closed doors, so that the season can still be finished by the end of May. I’m only sharing my opinion on what I feel is reasonable.

“We don’t want to play without the fans there – that’s the whole point of football – but we also don’t want to see the season finish now.

“Leeds and West Brom have worked so hard to get to this point where they have a chance of getting to the Premier League. They are almost there.

“Liverpool are top of the Premier League. Does that all become void? I don’t see the logic in that. Somehow we have to complete.”

Millwall trained on Friday and are due to resume again on Wednesday.

The Lions will split their U23s from the first-team – the latter coming into their Calmont Road training ground in the morning with the younger age group meeting up in the afternoon.

Non-essential staff will not be on the premises.

Millwall are just two points outside the Championship play-offs and were looking to boost their top six hopes at home to Derby County last Saturday.

But once it was announced that Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta had contracted coronavirus it saw the Premier League and EFL take action.

“My initial reaction when I heard the news that we were going to get a suspension until after the international break was that it was probably the right thing to do,” said Rowett. “You can debate it all you want but at times like this you have to have to take the government’s reasoning – and their experts – into play and just go with it.

“Everybody is saying the same. It is more about the safety of people and the health of people. They are more worried about friends and family rather than playing football.

“But also the decision is a difficult one because this situation is unprecedented.

“We’ve got to try and plan as best we can.

“My first thought is how do we maintain the fitness of the players and how do we maintain the level of performance that we’re going to need when it comes back?

“There is a lot of talk we might not come back on April 3, so everyone is just a bit unsure about things. The health of people is more important – we’ve got to trust the scientists who are making the decisions.

“All the board have been tested and the players have been tested – they have come back negative.

“That’s a help to us, at least we can train together.

“We’re going to isolate the first team, the U23s and the staff – we’ll try and minimise any contact and just train separately.

“It doesn’t mean to say people won’t get it or won’t go away from the club and get it. It’s a serious situation – the worry is more that somebody gets it and gives it to one of their elderly family members.

“Whether it is elite sport or not elite sport, there is the same  responsibility on us as there is on everybody else.

“We’re making sure the training ground is sanitised properly and people need to follow the guidelines in making sure they wash their hands as often as possible. Don’t travel on public transport.

“One of the main things we’ve tried to do is when we are back into training that only staff who are necessary are there – no catering staff or admin staff.

“We’ll get trained and go home. We won’t be hanging around.

“We’ve worked too hard so far this season for us not be in a position to still do something if the league restarts. We owe that to ourselves and the fans.”

The EFL issued a statement on Monday morning: “Whilst the league and its board understand there is a strong desire from both the media and general public to understand what may happen next, there have, at this current time, been no decisions taken.

“The league also feels it inappropriate to respond to the many hypothetical solutions being suggested whilst the many unknowns remain.

“Given the fast-paced environment and parameters we are currently working within, it is simply not practical to give a running commentary on what may happen.

“A further update will be given once the EFL board has met this week.”

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