By RICHARD CAWLEY
Jake Cooper wants to finish the Championship season – even if that means the remaining fixtures taking place in empty stadiums.
Domestic football is facing the same uncertainty as so many other industries as the full effect of the coronavirus pandemic impacts on every walk of life.
Millwall were due to resume training on April 3 but that date will surely be pushed back now that prime minister Boris Johnson has told the nation to stay at home for the next three weeks to slow the spread of the disease and help save lives.
Cooper is only too aware that sport is not the biggest priority. But the centre-back also feels that just scrapping the campaign would not be the correct option.
The Lions are eighth in the table, just two points behind sixth-placed Preston North End. The play-offs are a realistic target for Gary Rowett’s side.
“Certainly everyone at Millwall would like to see the season continue,” said the 25-year-old. “We’re in a great position.
“It’s just our luck that we get into a great spot in the division and something comes and tries to take it away from us at the moment.
“But it’s alright, we’re happy with whatever it takes to get games back on and playing again – I’m sure the fans and the club will be delighted when we get back to that.
“Whether that changes the plans for next season or the one after that, that’s what it will have to be. We’d all like to see a conclusion to this season, definitely.”
The Den locked its doors to the public last week.
One option that could be explored is for the season to be finished behind closed doors.
“We would definitely be up for that right now,” said Cooper, who signed a permanent deal with Millwall in July 2017 after a successful loan spell that ended in League One play-off glory. “It’s definitely better than not playing.
“It would be a different atmosphere and experience – you do wonder how teams would take to it.
“It would be a mental challenge for everyone in that kind of environment, but I’d much rather do that then miss out on the games. I’m sure the lads feel the same.”
Millwall’s players have stayed away from their Calmont Road training base since the end of last week.
“We’ve got a group chat and that’s the only way we interact now as a whole team,” said dad-of-two Cooper.
“You miss being in the dressing room and being around the lads. But everyone around the world is missing out on time with their friends and family because of this virus, so you can’t really complain.
“We’re not training, so time has been spent at home with the family. I’ve been going to the local park or running around the local area – just trying to keep on top of things as much as we can.
“There is no real plan at the moment. It’s just take each day as it comes and go from there, as I’m sure it is for everyone who is out of work, not working or not allowed to leave the house. We’ve been given a team programme. It’s kind of different each day.
“Last week we had three choices – to either go on a longer run and cover a bit more distance, maybe something like 6k or 7k, just continuous jogging; then there was an option to do three minutes jogging and then walk two minutes for six to eight reps; there was a higher intensity run that was 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off over a longer distance.
“Now we’ve been given a plan for the next two weeks which builds up.”
Nobody in the Millwall ranks has played as much football as Cooper.
He has chained together 113 consecutive league appearances for the South London outfit – playing every single minute as well.
“I was expecting us to get the international break [before fixtures were suspended] so I was kind of setting that up as a rest,” said Cooper. “But now I’ve got this period. It looks like the games will come thick and fast when it’s over. So it’s probably best to make the most of it now and enjoy some time with the family.
“I can put my feet up a little bit and get my body back to it’s best. I’ll be as hungry as ever to go when we get back to training again.”
PICTURES BY BRIAN TONKS AND KEITH GILLARD
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