Billy Sharp says Sheffield United footballers are proud of Players Together charity

Captain Billy Sharp has been leading the effort to keep Sheffield United's players informed and in touch with one another during the coronavirus pandemic, but he says the easiest call to make was when he had to ask his team-mates to give up a portion of their wages to help NHS workers.

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“I've had a few serious video calls about certain situations and issues we all know about but an enjoyable one was about donating to frontline workers in the NHS because they were all happy to do it,” he said of his team-mates. “That was easily sorted.

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“Every group of players was on board and in the last 24 hours England's women's team have come on board, which is fantastic to see them wanting to donate to such a fantastic cause.

CAPTAIN: Billy Sharp has been co-ordinating the charity work by Sheffield United's squad

“It was well in the pipeline before we got the stick in the press but as footballers we get that anyway and we take that on the chin.

“Jordan Henderson (Liverpool's captain) was a big part of it and we put it to all the captains, we had a lot of calls where everyone had an input and we were all well happy to be on board to meet the public need and help the people who need it the most at the minute as they fight to come to terms with covid-19.

The NHS are always heroes, they just just don't always get the plaudits and it's great to see the country coming together to show their support for them.”

The players came under criticism for not agreeing wage deferrals or cuts during the pandemic, and negotiations are still ongoing at most clubs. Southampton and West Ham United are the only two top-flight clubs to reach agreement so far.

But the players always said it was not that they did not want to help, just they wanted to ensure the money went where it was most needed. They backed those words up with their actions to support the NHS.

“Some of my family are part of it, so it means a lot,” said Sharp. “Whether your family are involved or not, they're the people fighting for the country at the minute and trying to help save people's lives, doing the job they love and get paid to do.

“They don't get paid enough, they don't get enough credit but it's something we should be proud of. We need to appreciate them as much as we can because they're doing amazing work they should all be very proud of.

“I know friends who their partners are on the frontline and it's a risk they could bring it home but they have to do it because it's their skill, their profession. I think when they look back in years to come it will be a proud moment for them, even though it's a scary time for them.

“Hopefully it slows down for them soon so they can have a break from it and enjoy going back to their normal lives and doing what they do.”

Sharp's team-mate Enda Stevens went further, describing health secretary Matt Hancock's call for footballers to “do their bit” as below the belt.

Whilst Players Together was being organised behind closed doors, Hancock was asked a question about whether footballers should contribute financially to the coronavirus effort during a daily press briefing, and said they ought to, returning to the topic again in later comments.

Stevens and fellow Republic of Ireland internationals had already donated to help players in their country who were not getting paid, and talks about Players Together were underway.

"I think the criticism was unfair," Stevens told Irish radio station 2fm.

"A lot of footballers do stand up and represent themselves very well in terms of community and charity and I thought it was a bit uncalled for.

"We realised the responsibility that we have and it is a big responsibility because so many kids look up to you.

"It’s not something you can just do overnight, we had to come up with a plan and find the best possible way to help and what we wanted to do was to help the frontline and help the NHS where it was most beneficial.

"It was a bit below the belt."

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