Sue Smith - Players must curb natural exuberance as Covid-19 conditions bite

With everything that is going on in the world at the moment, football just has to get on with it and take what positives it can.

Rein it in?: Sheffield United's Billy Sharp celebrates scoring the winner against Newcastle.
Rein it in?: Sheffield United's Billy Sharp celebrates scoring the winner against Newcastle.

At first, I questioned my use of the phrase “get on with it” but that is probably something most of you are having to do in one way or another – whether you are a parent working from home and home-schooling or someone unable to open their business.

There have been tighter Premier League and Football League protocols introduced and with the increased number of cases in the real world and after Grimsby Town became the first English club punished for breaking the rules, I think we can expect to see them enforced more strictly.

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Hopefully, it makes players think a bit more about what they are doing outside their footballing bubbles. For football to continue, they have to.

The only one I was not happy with at first was on celebrations.

I can tell you from my playing days scoring is the ultimate, especially a really big goal like Billy Sharp’s penalty on Tuesday to give Sheffield United their first Premier League win of the season.

Of course players are going to celebrate. I do not know how you can hold those emotions in.

I feel sorry for them but they must rein it in because we all have to do things we either do not agree with or do not want to at the moment.

Firstly, players are not tested every single day and we know this horrible virus can exist without symptoms, so just because you passed a test earlier in the week does not mean by the Saturday you have not caught it, and celebrating with your team can pass it around.

The other point is these players are role models. There could be a 12-year-old watching who asks: ‘Mum, why are they all hugging when I can’t hug my nan?’ You have to set an example.

Manager Scott Parker called it a “scandal” Fulham found out at two days’ notice they were playing Tottenham Hotspur.

Hull City’s weekend game at Wigan Athletic was postponed because of Covid in the Latics squad, and replaced at short notice with a trip to Sunderland.

It is difficult for teams, players and managers to prepare, but easier when it is teams in the same division, and the basic background knowledge is there.

In previous seasons it would not have happened, but this is not a normal season.

Coaches and players must be flexible in their preparations, and ready in case players – or even managers – drop out on the day of a game because of a positive test. Even in normal times a player can get injured in the warm-up or feel ill.

Doncaster Rovers showed their adaptability at Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup, winning with a number of players out of position. It is not that unusual for Darren Moore to ask a player to adapt to a different role because it is part of his philosophy that everyone should understand and be able to play different roles.

It will serve those players well when things return to normal.

For youngsters plunged into Cup games at the weekend, that experience should do them good.

Watching on television, I feared for Aston Villa’s youth-teamers when they went behind to Liverpool early on but it just took a moment’s encouragement to start to believe and show what they were about. They will never forget it and, hopefully, it gives them a little push to put in an extra hour of training here and there.

But for so many senior Sheffield Wednesday players catching Covid we would never have had the feelgood story of Declan Thompson coming on at Exeter City for his debut at a sport he was told as a child he would never play again, or the wonderful video of his dad celebrating a substitution from his sofa. It was brilliant to see and just a shame he could not have been in the stadium.

If Sheffield United had not been hit by Covid the previous weekend we probably would not have seen Sheffield-born Antwoine Hackford become just the 20th 16-year-old to play in the Premier League.

I can understand Blades manager Chris Wilder’s concern about the integrity of the Premier League if clubs put out weakened teams because of illness, particularly after the infamous part an under-strength Manchester United played in the Blades’ 2007 relegation. You just hope over the course of the season it balances itself out.

For now, we just have to get on with it.

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