Government has told the football authorities they have to get tough over breaches of Covid rules as it gets harder and harder to justify a sport associated with images of jubilant players quaffing champagne, while NHS doctors struggle to cope with sick patients.
The juxtaposition of footballers ignoring social distancing rules on and off the pitch and the desperate struggle to contain the virus ‘increasingly jars’, a Whitehall insider told Sportsmail.
And that contrast has encouraged more calls for the game to be suspended until the coronavirus pandemic subsides with former FA chairman David Bernstein and Watford striker Troy Deeney calling for the sport to be shutdown.
Chorley players were among many to celebrate during FA Cup matches this weekend
The governing bodies have been told that if they cannot impress the need to follow the protocols upon players and managers, they will be expected to impose sanctions to make sure clubs are getting the message, Sportsmail understands.
The sports’ administrators, which includes the FA, Premier League and EFL, have been told government desperately wants to keep elite football open – and there are very good reasons for doing so – but if the public mood turns against the national game because of repeated breaches, it is going to be ‘difficult’.
Only last week, representatives of those three organisations were called to a meeting with Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, who let them know government had discussed shutting down elite football as part of Boris Johnson’s national lockdown.
Crawley Town also celebrated on and off the pitch after a remarkable win over Leeds United
There is ‘growing frustration’ among ministers, who have fought for football after a series of incidents during the festive period in which players organised and attended parties.
And while there is some sympathy for players carried away in the moment during the FA cup third round this weekend, when they celebrated exuberantly after goals and in the changing rooms, ministers don’t want to see similar scenes happening again.
Sporstmail understands that the FA will now write to clubs that are still in the FA Cup to remind them of their responsibilities under the Covid protocols.
The governing body previously been issued guidelines explicitly referencing the importance of social distancing.
Crawley players enjoyed their victory over Premier League opposition, Leeds, winning 3-0
Similarly, the Premier League wrote its clubs on Friday making clear that hugging and hand shakes are not allowed. The EFL has also strengthened its guidance to clubs.
Even so, at Chorley, who knocked out Derby County, and at Crawley Town, who defeated Leeds, the players celebrated enthusiastically after the match.
At Chorley, the players were recorded belting out the Adele song, Someone Like You, in the dressing room after their 2-0 victory over Championship side, Derby County.
And the beer and champagne flowed at CrawleyTown, as players embraced in the changing rooms following their 3-0 giant killing against Leeds United.
Chief medical officer Chris Whitty took to the airwaves to highlight the scale of the threat, saying that there are 30,000 people in hospital compared to the peak of 18,000 in April
Elsewhere, players embraced and cuddled in goal celebrations as the thrills and spills of the third round unfolded in dramatic fashion, which included giant killings, extra time and penalty shoot outs.
These images came during a weekend in which government ramped up the rhetoric around the national lockdown, amid increasing concern over the spread of coronavirus in the community.
Today, chief medical officer Chris Witty has issued the starkest warning yet about the spread of the virus and the threat to the ability of the NHS to treat the growing number of poorly people.
He warned that ‘the NHS is in the most dangerous situation in living history’.
Tottenham Hotspur’s players ran to youngster Alfie Devine when he scored at Marine
Witty said there are 30,000 people in hospital with Covid, compared to the peak of 18,000 in April and MailOnline has been told that ministers have considered telling the public they can only leave the house once a week in an attempt to bring infection rates down.
The UK announced a further 573 coronavirus deaths yesterday in the highest Sunday rise since April, and the third-deadliest Sunday of the entire pandemic as it emerged as many as one in five of all people in England may have had coronavirus.
Infections also continue to be high, with 54,940 announced yesterday – the 13th day in a row they have been above the 50,000 mark.
All players participating in the FA Cup were tested 72 hours before kick-off and the Professional Footballers’ Association warned its members not to celebrate goals with hugs.
However, amid the giant killings, late goals, penalty shootouts and for some the sheer relief of avoiding a banana skin, there were many unrestrained celebrations.
At Marine, a crowd gathered to see the Tottenham Hotspur players arrive before kick-off.
On the pitch, Spurs players hugged youngster, Alfie Devine, 16, after he scored his first goal for the club in a 5-0 victory.
Chelsea were relieved to put four goals past Morecambe after a difficult few weeks
Crawley’s Nick Tsaroulla and Chorley’s Connor Hall were mobbed after they scored unlikely goals during their sides’ heroic wins.
Arsenal players enjoyed a quick embrace after Emile Smith Rowe opened the scoring against Newcastle in extra time, and Chelsea’s stars got up close and personal as they returned to winning ways against Morecambe.
It is not believed there is an immediate threat to football, but the scenes make uncomfortable viewing for mnisters argiung that the continuation of the game does more good than harm.
Government is acutely aware of the financial impact of suspending the game, not just at the elite level but the knock on effect that would have for the grassroots, which benefits financially from the top tiers.
Futhermore, in a bleak time, football is a valuable source of interest and entertainment for millions of people.
For government, the balance between the benefits of the elite game continuing still outweigh the negative impact of players being seen to breach social distancing rules. Ministers retain confidence in the sport’s Covid protocols, but wants them enforced more effectively.
So far, the Premier League, lower-league EFL and Football Association have all failed to take action against players who have broken social distancing rules, leaving it to clubs who have minimised punishments for their highly-paid employees.
However, with additional government pressure, the governing bodies will have to consider acting where breaches occur.
But for some the games has already passed a point of no return. Former FA chairman and respected figure within the game, David Bernstein, has reiterated his concern over football’s continuation.
Emile Smith Rowe scored in extra time against Newcastle United in Arsenal’s win
‘The pictures of players celebrating and hugging on the pitch in these unique circumstances undercut the message of social distancing, which is extremely dangerous,’ he told the Telegraph. ‘That adds to the reasons why I believe that football should be suspended.’
Meanwhile, Watford striker Troy Deeney has claimed that footballers can’t stop breaking new Covid rules because it is in their ‘nature’ to hug their team-mates during goal celebrations, and the Watford striker called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to shut down the sport.
‘Unless the government or governing bodies step in and say, “you cannot do this, you cannot do that”, then it goes back to what’s morally right,’ Deeney told talkSPORT.
Troy Deeney (left) has called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) to shut down football
‘You can’t stop people from going away [on holiday], you can’t stop people from playing football and naturally going to hug your team-mate who assisted you – it’s something we’ve done for years.
‘Ultimately, it’s up to the powers that be to shut football down, and it doesn’t matter if it carries on into June and July like last year, or we talk about it week after week as people make mistakes.’
Pep Guardiola, the Manchester City manager, insisted that his club would follow the enhanced protocols but defended players hugging on the grounds that all involved had been tested.
He said: ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen but a guy scores a goal and has the joy to celebrate, I don’t know if he’s going to think, ‘I can’t hug my team-mates for two or three seconds.’
Last week the Premier League recorded 40 Covid cases and the EFL a further 112, in its first full round of testing since November.
PREMIER LEAGUE COVID-19 TEST RESULTS FOR 2020-21 SEASON
Round 1: Aug 31-Sep 6 – 1,605 tested, with three testing positive.
Round 2: Sep 7-13 – 2,131 tested, with four testing positive.
Round 3: Sep 14-20- 1,574 tested, with three testing positive.
Round 4: Sep 21-27 – 1,595 tested, with 10 testing positive.
Round 5: Sep 28-Oct 4 – 1,587 tested, with nine testing positive.
Round 6: Oct 5-11 – 1,128 tested, with five testing positive.
Round 7: Oct 12-18 – 1,575 tested, with eight testing positive.
Round 8: Oct 19-25 – 1,609 tested, with two testing positive.
Round 9: Oct 26-Nov 1 – 1,446 tested, with four testing positive.
Round 10: Nov 2-8 – 1,646 tested, with four testing positive.
Round 11: Nov 9-15 – 1,207 tested, with 16 testing positive.
Round 12: Nov 16-22 – 1,530 tested, with eight testing positive.
Round 13: Nov 23-29 – 1,381 tested, with 10 testing positive.
Round 14: Nov 30-Dec 6 – 1,483 tested, with 14 testing positive.
Round 15: Dec 7-13 – 1,549 tested, with six testing positive.
Round 16: Dec 14-20 – 1,569 tested, with seven testing positive
Round 17: Dec 21-27 – 1,479 tested, with 18 testing positive
Round 18: Dec 28-Jan 3 – 2,295 tested, with 40 testing positive