‘Fixture Chaos’

The early season schedule has led to a sense of panic amongst some Spurs fans, but I just wanted to briefly attempt to allay some of that panic by illustrating how we could manage the congestion.

The below assumes that George Marsh, Anthony Georgiou and Serge Aurier are gone, but that Tanguy Ndombele and Juan Foyth have stayed. It shows the absolute necessity for us to sign a deputy for Harry Kane, and assumes that we will sign someone.

In addition, it recognises that we can still loan players out *after* the final game listed here.

It is based upon Mourinho prioritising the league (as I believe he will) and using the squad against the weaker opposition that we will face in the cup competitions.

17/09 – PFC Lokomotiv Plovdiv (A)

Hart; Gedson, Sanchez, Foyth, Cirkin; Winks, Ndombele; Sissoko, Roles, Bergwijn; <striker>

20/09 – Southampton (A)

Lloris; Doherty, Alderweireld, Dier, Davies; Hojbjerg, Lo Celso; Lucas, Dele, Son; Kane

22/09 – League Cup Third Round

Gazzaniga; Tanganga, Carter-Vickers, Sanchez, Sessegnon; Sissoko, White; Clarke, Lamela, Bergwijn; <striker>

24/09 – Europa League Qualifier, Romania or Macedonia (A)

Hart; Gedson, Foyth, Dier, Cirkin; Winks, Ndombele; Lucas, Roles, Dele; <striker>

26/09 – Newcastle United (H)

Lloris; Doherty, Alderweireld, Sanchez, Davies; Hojbjerg, Lo Celso; Sissoko, Bergwijn, Son; Kane

29/09 – League Cup Fourth Round

Gazzaniga; Tanganga, Carter-Vickers, Dier, Sessegnon; Winks, White; Lamela, Ndombele, Dele; Lucas

01/10 – Europa League Qualifier, TBC

Hart; Gedson, Sanchez, Foyth, Cirkin; Sissoko, Lo Celso; Clarke, Roles, Bergwijn; <striker>

03/10 – Manchester United (A)

Lloris; Doherty, Alderweireld, Dier, Davies; Hojbjerg, Winks; Lucas, Dele, Son; Kane

Obviously there will be some fans that feel that some of the above teams are too inexperienced and that we need to go full-strength (or close to full-strength) in the majority of matches. The above is an extreme example of what we *could* do if we were to rotate fully. The reality will probably see us make fewer changes, but puts the players at risk as they are not getting as much time to recover during games.

Even with a squad that we perceive to be quite small, though, it shows how it’s possible to manage such an intense run of matches.

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Pre-Season Anticipation

Things feel okay again.

I didn’t like last season. I didn’t like the way things quickly went south under my beloved Mauricio Pochettino. I didn’t even like much of the football post-restart (I understand I’m potentially in the minority there). I didn’t like our players and manager breaking lockdown, Dele making a racially insensitive joke on Instagram, the emerging tension around Tanguy Ndombele… if we were going to skip a ‘season review DVD’, 2019/20 is definitely the one.

But I really fucking loved watching Tottenham Hotspur vs Ipswich Town in a pre-season friendly on August 22nd 2020.

It’s a pre-season friendly. It means nothing. We were playing a League One club who changed their full XI at half-time. Caveats all over the shop, and rightly so. But I felt hopeful and excited and – simply put – I just enjoyed watching us play football.

José Mourinho is many things, and his autocratic style and his communication methods are probably never going to sit comfortably with me, but there are two elements of his tenure that I am thoroughly enjoying so far.

  1. The common sense approach to transfers.
  2. The way that he is developing our young players.


Pierre-Emile Højbjerg is not a special player. He’s not Tanguy Ndombele or Giovani Lo Celso. But I believe he’s potentially the No More Nails that our team has lacked. He’s the guy that puts out fires, that anticipates and that allows the others to express themselves. He’s very neat and tidy technically (and I definitely don’t want to under-sell this), very vocal, a good organiser and an excellent reader of the game. No frills but… we’ve got plenty of frills, so that’s okay.

And whilst I don’t believe that he’s a special player, he might well be a special person. I would really recommend listening to this interview. He’s highly intelligent, articulate and most importantly – I think – reflective.

Link to Højbjerg interview with Andy Brassell

Joe Hart has not been a good goalkeeper for a few years now. The data shows us this pretty clearly. But if Mourinho feels that he needs another experienced goalkeeper then I am simply pleased that he has been backed in this way. I’d rather we’d have trawled data and scouted more widely and found a younger, ‘bigger upside’ goalkeeper who could potentially go on to become first or second choice, but perhaps the club think they have that in Brandon Austin and Alfie Whiteman, and want to give them two years to prove themselves on loan. This signing was just ‘fine’ for me.

Just as excitingly as Højbjerg’s signing, I believe, are the loan moves for Troy Parrott (Millwall) and Oliver Skipp (Norwich City). I wanted Parrott to go out on loan last January, and I wanted Skipp to go out for the whole of last season. But Mourinho seems to have totally ripped up our previous loan policy and has set about making up for lost time. I think these moves bode really well. I predict that Parrott will score 15+ goals in the Championship and that both Skipp will make pundits’ Championship teams of the season. This is exactly what they both needed. They are excellent young players with the highest of high ceilings.

We seem to also be close to selling Serge Aurier. This gives me enormous faith. We’re being linked with right-backs and strikers, positions of need. It all just makes sense.

Developing young players

I’ve watched two Spurs matches in the past seven days: the Under-23s at Leyton Orient, and the first team against Ipswich town.

I’ll start with the first team as that’s the most pertinent. With many regulars not yet back from their holidays (or back, but quarantining) it opened the door for plenty of involvement from youth players, and Mourinho certainly doubled down in that regard. We ended the match with an insanely young side. In positional order: 28; 21, 22, 31, 18; 18, 16; 19, 19, 20; 16.

I think we all expected to see Dennis Cirkin and Harvey White involved – two players who have caught Mourinho’s eye and who have been in squads previously. When I got wind earlier in the week that we might see some 16-year olds included, though, I got very excited because this is new. Not only is it a show of faith in those players – Dane Scarlett and Alfie Devine (who recently joined from Wigan), both of whom are England Under-16 players (in a very, very competitive age group) – but, just as importantly, it’s a statement. And that’s what’s been missing these past three years. That’s the reason why we haemorrhaged young talent and will now rue the loss of many a player, but especially Noni Madueke, Omari Forson and Luis Binks. The youngsters need to see a pathway because there is an increasingly well-trodden alternative – go abroad and get the opportunities you won’t necessarily get in the Premier League.

None of the young players who were involved yesterday looked out of place. I think Harvey White, Ryan Sessegnon and Jack Clarke could and should play all of the early Europa League matches. I think Dennis Cirkin should be our left-back rotation full stop (he’s ideal for that withdrawn role). I suspect Cameron Carter-Vickers will leave permanently and I believe the club are looking for the right club to loan Jamie Bowden to.

It’s far too early to make proclamations about the futures of Dane Scarlett and Alfie Devine, but I liked what I saw…

And, frankly, if you don’t long to be in Alfie Devine’s crew, are you even Spurs?


The Under-23s were less convincing in their heavy defeat to Leyton Orient (though roughly the same group did draw with Crawley Town yesterday). The Orient match neatly encapsulated the damage that we’ve done to our youth development over the past few years. There were players playing in that match that ultimately have no place in a Spurs Under-23 team at this point (it’s not good for them or us); they should have moved on permanently by now and opened the door for some younger boys to get chances in their place.

This summer is going to be quite ‘shop windowy’ for some of these guys, both in terms of loans and permanent transfers. Jack Roles is the one who can probably think himself a bit unfortunate not to be in the first team group, but he will hopefully get a decent loan to a Championship club (Wycombe Wanderers would be ideal) and that could be transformative for him. I’m not convinced that he’s a future Spurs player yet but he’s certainly very talented and has a good career ahead of him. Goal-scoring midfielders have real value and, if he’s not going to make it with us, we need to absolutely maximise that value.


To finish, I think it’s worth noting that the match against Ipswich was exactly what we have come to expect under Mourinho. That is:

  1. Low block and counter. We defend deep and narrow, we crowd the box, we allow the opposition to have the ball at arm’s length, we wait for them to make an error and then we pounce and attack with pace. It’s not what I want to see from Spurs in the long-term but, for now, it’s effective.
  2. Out-to-in movement from wide. Part of that attacking with pace comes from wide players driving inside in a very direct way. They tend not to hold the wide position to open the pitch – we don’t play possession football, so that’s not necessarily needed. Instead, they are constantly looking to time runs in behind. Sessegnon’s goal showed this – a run inside to get onto a long-range pass from Dele. Son’s second showed defence-stretching movement but down the centre. Mourinho loves Lucas for this and for his work-rate, though I personally think Lucas’ poor decision-making and lack of productivity mark him out as a poor fit long-term. I think Clarke and Sessegnon are more than capable of performing this role – Clarke was quite productive yesterday in terms of chance creation. He’s incredibly good at fronting up his man, beating him and getting a pass or cut-back into the box.
  3. 4-4-2 out of possession, 3-4-3 in it. As we saw very often last season, the left-back tucks in to create a 3-4-3 or 3-4-2-1 shape when we are building from the back, allowing the right-back (in this instance, Gedson, who had a strong game) to push forward. At this point it seems to be the approach we will continue with rather than simply a solution to ‘The Aurier Problem’. Though, of course, that might change if we sign a new right-back.

So yes, here I am enjoying Spurs again. Long may it continue!

Whilst I’m here I’ll tell you about a new project that I’m involved in. Myself and Flav from The Fighting Cock podcast have started a non-football pod called 15 Minutes (With Flav and Windy). It’s a coffee break podcast, give it a go.

I recently added a Donate button to this site. It’s on the ‘About‘ page. I explain why on there. Cheers!


I tend to write each year about the 25-man squad and the implications of the homegrown players rule. This year I’m writing about it a little earlier than usual because it will impact on Spurs’ transfer strategy. The reason being that Spurs have sleepwalked into a potential issue with homegrown player numbers which could impact on how many signings José Mourinho can make and/or the size of our squad for next season.

I wrote last June that ‘This summer will likely see Spurs re-build the squad both from the top-down and bottom up. By that I mean that we will need to add first team-ready additions in at two or three key areas, but also prepare for the future, with one eye on the home grown players rule.’

We signed Jack Clarke and Ryan Sessegnon — a nod towards some forward-planning. However, their lack of progression over this past year causes an issue. Both count as ‘freebies’ for the next couple of years – i.e. they don’t have to be named in the 25-man squad. But it does not seem likely at this point that they will get significant minutes because… well, they’ve both essentially stood still since signing.

Back to the homegrown rule. The misconception about the requirement itself is that clubs must name eight home grown players in their squads. We could name fewer than eight home grown players, but would need to also name fewer than 25 players in our squad — for example, if we only have seven home grown players, we can name a 24-man squad, 6/23, 5/22, etc. 

Remember, a home grown player is defined as one whom, irrespective of nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to The Football Association or the Football Association of Wales for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons, or 36 months, before his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21). Source: Premier League.

As ever, we will not need to name players who are under 21 on our squad list, so could augment our squad with youngsters. This would mean that we could manage with, say, a 22-man squad with just five homegrown players, but would need plenty of under 21 players who are ready to play (particularly if we qualify for the Europa League). For the 2020/21 campaign, players considered ‘under 21’ will have been born on or after 1st January 1999. This means that for the coming season we still have a number of ‘freebies’ who are fairly well-known names: Brandon Austin, Gedson Fernandes, Jack Roles, Japhet Tanganga, TJ Eyoma, Ryan Sessegnon, Oliver Skipp, Jack Clarke, Jamie Bowden, Harvey White, J’Neil Bennett, Troy Parrott, Malachi Fagan-Walcott, Dennis Cirkin. One would expect the majority of these to be out on loan next season, but we can probably expect Gedson, Tanganga, Sessegnon and, perhaps, White, Cirkin and Parrott to get some playing time.

Returning to the over-21s, Spurs currently have 29 players who would need to be named in the Premier League squad list in order to play. But, of those, I would expect 10 or more to leave, either permanently or on loan.

1Michel Vorm20/10/198336 Y
2Hugo Lloris26/12/198633  
3Jan Vertonghen24/04/198733 Y
4Toby Alderweireld02/03/198931  
5Moussa Sissoko16/08/198930  
6Danny Rose02/07/199030YY
7Paulo Gazzaniga02/01/199228  
8Erik Lamela04/03/199228  
9Son Heung-min08/07/199228  
10Lucas Moura13/08/199227  
11Serge Aurier24/12/199227  
12Ben Davies24/04/199327Y
13Harry Kane28/07/199326Y
14Eric Dier15/01/199426  
15Harry Winks02/02/199624Y
16Giovani Lo Celso09/04/199624  
18Davinson Sánchez12/06/199624  
19Tanguy Ndombele28/12/199623  
20Luke Amos23/02/199723YY
21Anthony Georgiou24/02/199723YY
22Kyle Walker-Peters13/04/199723YY
23Steven Bergwijn08/10/199722  
24Cameron Carter-Vickers31/12/199722YY
25Juan Foyth12/01/199822  
26Shilow Tracey29/04/199822YY
27Alfie Whiteman02/10/199821Y
28George Marsh05/11/199821YY
29Kazaiah Sterling09/11/199821YY
Spurs’ over-21 players, ordered by DOB

Of those I would expect to stay, only five are homegrown: Ben Davies, Harry Kane, Harry Winks, Dele and Alfie Whiteman. With just five homegrown players, we would only be able to name a squad of 22 players, so if my assumptions about those that may leave are correct, we would only be able to add three non-homegrown players.

Naturally, this would make the signing of homegrown players a more attractive proposition. We have been linked with Max Aarons and Nathan Ferguson, both homegrown and, even better, not needing to be listed for another couple of seasons. Ollie Watkins is tearing up the Championship and has an £18m release clause. Eberechi Eze has long been linked with Spurs. An alternative would be to keep Walker-Peters, though Mourinho has already said that he would not stand in the way of his ‘leaving the club in search of happiness’.

Young, English players are amongst the best in Europe, but they do come at a premium because of the additional value that the homegrown tag adds.

One other consideration is the Europa League. Of course, we may not even qualify, but the Europa League rules are a little different to the Premier League rules — have a look at pages 39 and 40 of the regulations. UEFA don’t just want clubs to have players trained elsewhere in the FA structure — they have additional requirements for club-trained players. They want to encourage clubs to bring through their own young players.

If we want to name a ‘full’ squad in the Europa League, we would need four ‘association-trained’ players and four ‘club-trained’ players (based on my predictions we would have just Kane, Winks and Whiteman).

With strong links to Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Kim Min-jae and Arkadiusz Milik, Spurs could soon be in a position where they would need to sell (or loan) a non-homegrown player in order to buy another. It’s something to keep an eye on as the transfer window develops.

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Football’s intangibles will be forever debated because it’s almost impossible to come to a resolution or sometimes even a compromise when the arguments are so antithetical. ‘Desire’ is definitely one such intangible in this category.

‘Lads, it’s Tottenham’, Alex Ferguson famously said of Spurs. But that was at least fifteen years ago, and probably more like twenty years ago. Our players have turned over five or six times since then, our managers more.

There are a group of fans who will see a player charging into tackles as a representation of desire, but that is an outmoded view and far from the discussion that I want to have here.

I have spent a lot of the last 24 hours tweeting about Jose Mourinho’s latest press conference, in which he said ‘I believed in the evolution of the team and I thought that by a desire point of view, they [Sheffield United] put more than us. That’s something that disturbs me. It’s something that I feel, I don’t know, that’s my way of being – it’s something that destroys me a little bit on the inside because I think the last thing in football is when you have the feeling you could, you should do more.’

He thought Sheffield United beat us because they tried harder than us. They wanted it more. In explaining this, he also distances himself from what happened on the pitch. The players had shown ‘commitment and professionalism’ on the training ground, so why wouldn’t he trust them out there? They’d tricked him into believing that they cared, those little scamps! And, yet, when it mattered, they let him down.

As you can tell, I have an issue with this, but first I’ll explain why I’ve discovered that it’s problematic to even have this conversation.

When I tweeted about this it was met with a bunch of absolutely dumbfounded responses for a few reasons:

  1. People said that our ‘pampered’ (a word that came up a lot) players needed calling out, that they’ve been ‘mentally weak’ (another phrase that was used a lot) for years;
  2. Jose Mourinho has had a lot of success and therefore he knows best;
  3. This strategy has worked for Mourinho before.

I’d also note that ‘Mourinho fans’ – and my goodness is that a thing, there are a rather large group of people who support him and not his teams – are next-level.

It is really difficult to debate points 2 and 3 because, at least on some level, the statements are correct. I have a feeling that things have changed since Mourinho had success using this method. My gut tells me that when you’re at a club with almost limitless resources, you can afford to be brutal with players because if you alienate them, you just sell them and move on to the next. Spurs won’t be able to do that. But they are correct; Mourinho does (did?) tend to bring success to wherever he goes. He wins trophies, he is able to point to record books and say ‘I did that’.

But I take issue with the first point, and here’s why: for every single example you can think of where our players showed ‘weak’ mentality in the past five years, I can show you two where they showed the opposite. Spurs in peak Pochettino mode were famous for punching above their weight. We did not have the resources of the bigger clubs and yet we were right there on their coat-tails, and sometimes they were even on our coat-tails. Has this already been forgotten simply because we’ve been rubbish again for a bit?

In the seasons 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2017/18, Spurs – noted bottle jobs, a gutless set of lily-livered little boys (judging by my Twitter mentions) – completed more comebacks than any other team, earning 47 points from conceding the first goal in a match. I’m pretty convinced that that wasn’t *just* because of those famous winners, Kieran Trippier and Christian Eriksen.

There we have Roy Keane in October 2017 saying ‘them [sic] days are over’, ‘very brave, showed a lot of courage’. Alllllll the intangibles.

There is absolutely no doubt that this deteriorated in 2018/19 as Pochettino’s Tottenham started to crumble. As Pochettino started to crumble, in my view. And yet, even then, we saw some of the most miraculous come-backs in football history in our historic Champions League campaign.

Mourinho may want to ‘separate the boys from the men’ as the rather toxic cliché goes, but we only need to look at Mo Salah, Kevin de Bruyne and Paul Pogba as examples of players he famously culled who came back to prove that they did have winning mentality after all and, not just that, truckloads of talent.

I’m not saying that Mourinho doesn’t know what he’s doing – quite the opposite, I’m sure this is very targeted, very considered. What I am saying is that it seems ill-judged at a club like Spurs, where we’re not going to be able to buy a whole new squad of ‘winners’. He needs to work with these players. He needs to foster a sense of togetherness and get them all on the same page – as they clearly were in that period under Pochettino – and I personally don’t believe that this is the right way to achieve that.

And finally, in separating himself from the concept of the players lacking in motivation is a dereliction of duty. It is his job to ensure that the players are motivated. He thinks the players threw the towel in against Sheffield United. Well, so did he. In his own words ‘I feared that in the second half we wouldn’t be strong enough to cope’. Judging by the second half performance, one can assume this came through in his half-time team talk.

It’s fine for fans to scream intangibles at the pitch if that makes them feel better, rather than look objectively for possible reasons why a particular game is going wrong (bad defending with Serge Aurier playing right-back and Moussa Sissoko in defensive midfield is hardly a shock, is it?), but for the manager to join in is an admission that he has failed in some way (whilst reflecting responsibility).

As Spice put it in response to me on Twitter, on one hand you’ve got people shouting “Poch lost the dressing room, couldn’t motivate the players, had to go!” and now those same people are saying that the players should be self-motivated. So which is it?

Jose Mourinho has forgotten more about football than I’ve ever known, and who am I to tell him how to do his job? But I think a more appropriate starting point for analysing that Sheffield United game is looking at the team selection, tactics, use of substitutes and failure to adapt to their style.

I’m not absolving the players of responsibility, by the way. We have some bad players who are playing badly and making mistakes. I don’t think telling them they’re mentally weak is going to make them any better, though. And it might alienate our good ones.

I recently added a Donate button to this site. It’s on the ‘About‘ page. I explain why on there. Cheers!

Project Restart: Effing Absurd

It’s been a while – too long – I hope you’re well. I hope your family and friends are well. I hope you’re coping okay with lockdown.

This has been a pretty difficult period for everyone. I consider myself lucky, but it’s still not easy. My girlfriend is shielding, we live separately. I miss her terribly. Like many others, I have not seen family or friends – or anyone, aside from delivery drivers, the postwoman and neighbours – since this all began. I am lucky enough to still have my job which has been largely unaffected aside from the move to working from home. My work has allowed me to retain a sense of purpose and a routine.

Outside work, I have enjoyed continuing to record podcasts (The Extra Inch, our Tottenham Hotspur podcast) throughout the period for the same reason – a source of purpose – and for a chance to catch up with mates as a distraction from the repetitiveness. I spoke to The Guardian for this piece on podcasting in the pandemic.

My dad was briefly unwell at the beginning of the pandemic. As it turned out, he had pneumonia. It was an incredibly worrying time, and my heart goes out to anyone who has suffered loss or has had similar concerns for the health of their loved ones.

I had mixed feelings when I saw Harry Kane, Tanguy Ndombele, Son Heung-min et al return to training. On one hand: man, had I missed these guys. It was lovely to see them, their familiar faces. It felt normal, it felt every day. We’re so used to seeing these training clips – shooting drills, pressing drills. It briefly lifted me out of what has become the ‘new normal’ (as everyone keeps saying) at home. On the other hand: why on earth is this happening now? We’re all locked down – for good reason – and we’re sending these men to their non-essential work when the virus is not even close to being suppressed in our country.

Over the past month I have recorded two podcasts with Alex Benham. He is brilliant. Alex is a listener of The Extra Inch and he got in touch with us (podcast at TheExtraInch dot co dot uk.) having heard Nathan A Clark exclaim that the idea of restarting the Premier League was ‘fucking absurd’.

Alex is a researcher working on the history of public health. He is undertaking a PhD at Oxford University and has spent the last two years researching pandemics and government responses to pandemics. He is well qualified to put what we’re all going through now into a historical context, and also to make observations about our response.

I thought it would be really useful to invite Alex to converse with me in blog form about Covid-19 and, in particular, the Premier League’s response to it and their intentions going forward.

Alex, we spoke at length on the podcast about the historic echoes of this. You talked me through the Mumbai plague and the Spanish flu, and the government responses to each, but what are the headlines here?

So the obvious headline is the striking parallels between these pandemics in the past and this one – the novel coronavirus – that is currently in the process of redefining the present. The British state’s response to both Bubonic Plague in colonial Mumbai (1896-1920), and the Spanish Flu in mainland Britain (1918-1919), is characterised by three key features. Firstly, the authorities attempt to deny the severity of the pandemic. In Mumbai, the first reports of the plague reached the British in May 1896, but they didn’t officially acknowledge its presence until October, 6 months later. Secondly, they delay acting to contain the spread of disease – Spanish Flu reached Britain in May 1918, but the authorities delayed taking proper measures until the Autumn. Thirdly, these denials and delays are driven by a desire to preserve the economy at all costs, even if that is a heavy cost to life. In Mumbai, the priority of the British was to keep the city’s thriving port open, and maintain India’s trade with the rest of the world. In 2020, as the British Government try and push people back to work amidst a pandemic – after first denying its severity, then delaying their response – it’s not hard to see the parallels.

We have history in not responding decisively then. We have dithered, and there’s a discussion to be had around the reason for this dithering – whether it is a strategy to attempt to reassure the public, an attempt to maintain the economy for as long as possible, or simply indecision. I think it’s useful to have this historical knowledge of previous responses to frame the discussion. You spoke in a lot more detail about this on the first podcast we did together (The Extra Inch – Bonus Episode: The Premier League’s Project Restart… Effing Absurd) – I had no idea of the parallels and it was fascinating to learn about those pandemics, though shocking to hear about the mass loss of life. I put a trigger warning on the first podcast because it is not content that everyone will be comfortable with.

Let’s move on to the football because that is the purpose of this blog. Here, there is also some historic significance which bears repeating. The Spanish flu had a direct impact on football, right?

Yes it did; although national competitions were suspended for the First World War, regional leagues continued.  This meant competitive football was played throughout the worst period of the Spanish Flu – late 1918 – and probably contributed to its spread. Chelsea, for example, played three home games in November 1918 – Brentford, Millwall and Tottenham – each time with more than 10,000 people at Stamford Bridge. In that same month, the local area saw 100 deaths from influenza. Two Chelsea players went on to contract Spanish Flu – Logan and Ford –as did two of the club’s vice presidents – Hayes-Fisher and Joynson-Hicks. Elsewhere, footballers had begun to die: Angus Douglas, the former Chelsea outside right, Jack Allan, a forward for Nottingham Forest and John Pattinson, a winger for Doncaster Rovers. All were under the age of 35 when they died. Douglas was just 29. Even more tragically, Douglas’s wife also died of the virus, leaving their daughter orphaned.

It would be very easy to skim over that. Old, dead people. Sad. Re-read it, but this time insert the names of current players and officials in the place of Logan, Ford, Hayes-Fisher, Joynson-Hicks, Douglas, Allan and Patttison. Allow the tragedy to become more tangible, closer.

The Premier League has commenced its Project Restart plan before ‘lockdown’ has ended. 1,000 people – players and club officials – are being tested regularly for Covid-19. If they test positive, they go into isolation for seven days. But Alex, you’re not convinced by the approach to testing, are you?

So the Premier League is depending on a program of bi-weekly qPCR tests (to give them their full name, Reverse Transcription Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction tests) to protect its players and staff. The procedure is relatively simple, you take a swab sample – usually from the back of the throat – and test it to see if it contains a significant quantity of viral RNA (the molecule that stores the genetic code of the coronavirus).  The problem with coronavirus is that – like most pulmonary viruses – the quantity of the virus in someone’s respiratory system varies massively from person to person – some will have large quantities, some almost none at all. The quantity also varies according to the stage of the infection –  most importantly, some people will only have a detectable quantity of the virus in their system for a few days after the beginning of the infection. This is one of the reasons the coronavirus qPCR test can have a higher false negative test rate – i.e. missing the virus even though someone has the infection.

According to Dr James Gill at Warwick Medical School – when tested alone, the PCR test has a 66.7% detection rate within the first week – so about 67% of people who have coronavirus will test positive on the PCR test. Avi Lasarow, who is the Chief Executive of the company (Prenetics) providing the qPCR tests to the League, claims the test is 98.8% accurate. My scepticism about this claim is partly a product of the science behind it, and partly a consequence of the person making it. In 2015, Lasarow settled a court case with the Federal Trade Commission. The charge? Making ‘unfair or deceptive’ claims about a skin cancer test app sold by his company.

Players are likely to be mixing with others who have coronavirus but are not testing positive or not yet testing positive. The virus could spread to other players, to coaches and officials and beyond – to their families, housemates and members of the public.

Training is different – players train in small groups. Initially it was contact-free, though that soon changed.

The idea that players can quickly change learned behaviours and practices -which are so embedded into their ways of working and lifestyles and have been since they were children – is at worst, whimsical, and at best, hopeful. Even if the training pitch is a relative safe space, the changing rooms and any other inside areas are going to prove a logistical nightmare. I worry when I think of the kitchen and toilets in the office that I work in. A training ground is different – 30+ players and coaches with streaming noses, panting and puffing. And that’s before we even consider the logistics around the matches themselves.

On the follow-up podcast (The Extra Inch – Bonus Episode: The Premier League’s Project Restart… Effing Absurd… Part 2) we asked a question from Seamus Harte‏ (@Seamus_Harte).

Seamus nailed it. Why are the Premier League pressing ahead with this? Money is the main and possibly only reason. The longer that football-less society continues, the more football clubs lose money. The fear is that clubs will go out of business without the money that football generates. In the Premier League, where the risk of clubs going bankrupt is lower, the issues are that clubs will lose money and become less competitive – they will no longer be able to afford the best players. The longer this goes on, the more likely it is that Premier League fans look towards the Bundesliga. The more Premier League players look towards the Bundesliga. Alex, what do you think will happen if we just crack on?

Lets get one thing straight. The week the Bundesliga returned, less than 1,000 people in Germany were becoming infected with coronavirus every day. In Britain, the same week, around 20,000 people per day were becoming infected. The Bundesliga came back because Germany had suppressed the virus. The Premier League is coming back because Britain has failed to suppress the virus, and is desperate for a distraction from the destruction being wrought by this failure. If the Premier League go ahead with this plan, players and staff are going to get sick. This week the Daily Mail reported that the Premier League has been approached by one club executive who, in the context of Covid-19, is ‘concerned about a corporate manslaughter prosecution.’ Amidst all the excitement at football’s return, clubs are quietly considering what to do if players start dying.

There is some resistance. Some players are standing up for themselves and their communities. Black players in particular. We know that the BME community is disproportionately impacted by coronavirus. Alex, you discussed all of this on the follow-up podcast, and I think it’s important that we highlight the key points again here.

The reality is that Covid-19 deaths are twice as high for BME people as they are for white people in Britain, and almost four times as high for those from a Black British African background. This disproportionate death toll is partly a result of the fact that BME people are over-represented in the riskiest jobs – a ‘third of all working-age Black Africans are employed in key worker roles, 50% more than the share of the White British population.’ Even if we just look at hospitals, ‘Pakistani, Indian and Black African men are respectively 90%, 150% and 310% more likely to work in healthcare than white British men.’ This goes all the way back to the end of the Empire, the deliberate recruitment of commonwealth migrants to the NHS and Transport for London.  Secondly BME people suffer the effects of structural racism – as well as riskier jobs, BME people experience poorer housing, with higher rates of overcrowding, greater levels of air pollution, and greatly reduced access to green space. This contributes to the prevalence of underlying health conditions amongst those with a Bangladeshi, Pakistani or black Caribbean background.

Black working class players, like Deeney, Kante, Willian, Rose and Sterling, have been forced to be most vocal about their concerns about the restart because they are from the group put most at risk by it. Their friends and families are more likely to have underlying health conditions – and more likely to be key workers – than those of their white teammates. Lets not forget that Sterling’s mother used to work as a cleaner, as did Kante’s mother, as did Willian’s mother. These black players will be disproportionately exposed to tragedy – to quote Sterling ‘this is massive, this is something I’ve never seen. . . I’ve had friends whose grandma’s passed away, I’ve had family members as well that have passed away.’ It’s a dire indictment of football, that, once again, black players are being forced to publicly demand the most basic rights and protections.

Solidarity with all of these players who are putting their heads above the parapets.

There will be different views on all of this, as I discovered when I tweeted about the subject yesterday. Some people believe that the risk to life is minimal (“It’s a nursing home epidemic.”) and are just delighted that football will be returning. Whatever your views, some further resources to keep yourself informed are below.

Take good care of yourself and your loved ones.

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