Andros Townsend on Premier League restart, coronavirus risk to BAME players and calling out teammates

For most players Premier League training is back and for Andros Townsend that has come as a huge relief. He has, of course, considered the risks and has listened to the regular updates from Crystal Palace club officials but is content they and league medics have created a very safe environment.

“You're literally abiding by social distancing rules all the time," he told ITV News.

"So definitely in stage one there's no risk of even coming close to anyone, let alone being able to pass on anything; especially the fact that everyone’s been tested, everyone’s been given a clean bill of health.

"So, I’m definitely going back to training feeling completely safe and not feeling like I'm putting anybody or myself at risk.”

He was speaking on the same day the Premier League revealed that from 748 tests of players and staff, six from from clubs have returned positive samples and are now a few days into a week of isolation. More significant figures after a second round of testing are expected on Saturday.

Three of those six positives were at Watford where captain Troy Deeney and several other players have decided not to train yet on safety grounds. N’golo Kante at Chelsea has taken the same decision.

  • Townsend says there's minimal risk of catching or passing coronavirus on at Crystal Palace training ground

Players who have gone back are embarking on stage one of a phased process that will eventually lead to matches behind closed doors in empty grounds. So, will Townsend feel any more anxious when socially distanced training moves to full contact?

He said: “The plan is to get tested twice a week and the guidelines are you train, you go home, you only leave your house for essential shopping.

"So, on paper, I don't see how this thing can spread. Obviously, the only way it can is if teammates are not abiding by those guidelines. And then it's down to senior players at each club to pull them aside and have a conversation telling them they’re risking people’s lives.”

Does that mean there is genuine concern that some teammates might not be as disciplined outside the training ground as they need to be, and senior players will be forced to step in? There have been a few examples recently of Premier League stars being caught out ignoring the rules.

“I'm not judging anybody. It's easy for me to sit here with my missus and two kids, and then being able to judge a person who's maybe on their own and is not getting that similar conversation on a constant basis. So it must be difficult but of course if I do feel, or senior players do feel that maybe the younger players aren’t abiding by those guidelines of course we will have a conversation.“

  • 'It's up to senior players to tell them they're risking lives' Townsend says players must abide by lockdown rules

If those conversations were needed, he’d be sympathetic. Townsend is only too well aware that for some players, the past two months have been far tougher than for him surrounded by his young family.

“I think at these times more than any, mental health is probably just as important as physical health and it's easy to judge and say ‘Oh, why is he being silly, why is he breaking lockdown rules.’ But you have to take the time as well as to think about this person's mental health. "Maybe he’s struggling mentally maybe he just needed to speak to another human being. So, I can't judge anybody but when it comes to a point where my family could be put at risk as well or my teammates’ family, then of course conversations need to be had.”

What of the government’s obvious keenness to get the Premier League up and running again? Does Townsend believe, like some of his fellow professionals, they’re being rushed into a return for political reasons?

He said: “I think if it was just the Premier League that they were wanting to go back to work then I would feel a little bit like a circus performing act, there to keep the public entertained but at the last lockdown guidelines they gave, they wanted as many businesses as possible to start getting back to work.

"So, it's not only in Premier League, the whole of the country and every business in the country is now trying to find a way of how they can navigate through this how they can start getting back to the new way of normality and the Premier League is no different.”

Townsend enjoyed what he caught of the Bundesliga’s return last weekend despite the fact it was a strange new look for football, playing in huge empty stadia.

Townsend is hoping to steer Crystal Palace towards a top-half finish in the Premier League. Credit: PA

“Visually it’s not the same without fans and if you'd asked me the question a few months ago. ‘Do I believe we should come back without fans?’ The answer would have been ‘no.’

"But unfortunately, now we're in a stage where one, I can’t see a stage when fans will be allowed back into the stadium and two, if we wait for the fans, I don't think there'll be many clubs still around in business for the fans to go and watch.”

Given that, Townsend is hopeful increased TV coverage might serve as some kind of compensation.

“The show has to go on and hopefully as many fans as possible get to watch all the games on TV and hopefully they don't feel like they're missing out as much as they are and that’s the only way we can navigate through this,” he said.

  • 'It's not the same without fans' Townsend says football's return will be strange

Broadcasters are still finalising how the games will be covered but there’s every chance it will be ‘football unplugged’; an acoustic version without the backing track of thousands of fans. It could be enlightening listening to players and managers communicating with each other; a laughing Townsend says it could also be post watershed stuff!

“It won’t be PG friendly but entertaining, yeah it will be.”

Our conversation finished where it began, on safety surrounding ‘Project Restart’ but specifically about the mounting evidence that BAME people are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Currently, that threat is not enough to stop Townsend going back to work.

“I think from the start of this thing we were told that if you're young, if you're fit and you're healthy then 9 times out of 10, it shouldn't affect you more than a common cold. So on that basis I'd like to wait for the relevant information (about the BAME risk) to come out but as it stands I'm not really concerned about myself.

"I am concerned about family members but if it does come to a stage where I do feel like I'm putting those guys at risk, then I’ll move out of home, there are other steps, other compromises I can take, instead of refusing to play which has been bandied about a lot over the last few days.”

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