by Andrew McSteen
Anyone walking past the relatively open space of Kent Country Cricket’s Ground in Beckenham will have noticed something different this week with the Premier League players of Crystal Palace arriving to the site.
But this was not a hark back to the old days of football players playing cricket in the summer, rather a return to football training after 10 weeks away.
On Monday, the Premier League voted for clubs to return to small group training this week as ‘Step One of the Return to Training Protocol’, part of their ‘Project Restart’, which aims to see games return around mid-late June.
Down in Beckenham on Tuesday, the Eagles players emerged from their home training routines to participate in pitch-conditioning and basic ball work at their Copers Cope base while maintaining social distancing, agreed after consultation with players, managers, Premier League club doctors, independent experts and the Government.
In footage released by the club this week, nearly the entire first squad were visible, training in solitary conditions and following new, strict protocols with the club partnering with the adjoining Kent Country Cricket Club Beckenham site to ensure they were met.
According to a statement and footage from the club, the new regime sees 25 players arrive in full training kit across three allotted time slots at the cricket site in the afternoon.
Then, using a “specially-designed flow system”, their temperature is taken in their cars and a questionnaire completed using an app. Visible from the public footpath outside, this appears to be in the form of a pop-up, drive-thru office, with large warning signs stating ‘PPE must be worn on this site’ and ‘No unauthorised person allowed beyond this point’.
When cleared, they leave their vehicles, parked more than two metres apart from the next vehicle, and then undertake a ‘pre-activation’ routine on the Kent County Cricket side of the site, where ‘supplementary gym work’ also takes place. Players then walk into the Palace side of the site, carrying their own boxes containing their kit, boots and energy drinks, amongst other items.
Outfield players (defenders, midfielders, attackers) then train in groups of four, plus one goalkeeper while “maintaining social distancing at all times” with only essential medical treatment administered to players. At the end of each training session, players then leave to eat and shower at home instead of on-site, before a comprehensive cleaning programme takes place ahead of the next training group starting.
According to the club, all players and support staff also now undertake a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test through a swab taken from the nose and throat, twice a week, to see if they have COVID-19.
These tests are administered under a system delivered by a consortium of companies entitled ‘Project Screen by Circle’ which, according to their website, is “delivering solutions” to the Premier League, alongside NHS England and the German Bundesliga, and who list Peckham’s Rio Ferdinand as part of their leadership team, under ‘Subject Expert/Player Engagement’.
“Project Screen by Circle will provide extensive COVID-19 testing of players and participants across a range of sports, and other sectors and employers, their support teams and staff, to help facilitate the return of the 2019/20 sports season and beyond,” said Avi Lasarow, EMEA CEO of Prenetics, leader of the consortium. “We are delighted to be playing our part in helping the nation get back to a sense of normality through work, sport, and leisure activity.”
Kent County Cricket have operated at the Beckenham site since 2002 and have enjoyed a close working relationship with the Eagles ever since. In recent years, Palace club doctor Dr. Zafar Iqbal has worked closely with Kent’s players and visiting players, and last October Kent’s Joe Denly and Sam Billings joined in a full training session with the Eagles ahead of the batsmen representing England, with Palace Manager Roy Hodgson and defender Joel Ward visiting the Kent site to pit their wits against a bowling machine.
“We are fortunate that the neighbouring location of Crystal Palace FC’s training facility and Kent Cricket’s County Ground at Beckenham has created a hub for professional sports development here in the London Borough of Bromley,” said Kent Cricket’s CEO, Simon Storey.
“This makes it possible for us to work together in partnership and we are delighted to support the phased return to training of Crystal Palace players. Across the sports industry, the health and safety of players, staff, members and supporters remains everyone’s top concern.
“The ECB are already working incredibly hard with government, cricket partners, including Kent Cricket, and other key stakeholders to develop procedures and protocols to support a delayed but safe start to the cricket season.
“With the premier league leading a solution for football players to return to work safely and finish their season, our partnership between two professional sports can only be a positive step.”
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