James Chester has explained the precautions and testing regime at Stoke City as the players return to training.
The Stoke squad reported back on Monday as Championship clubs took a step towards resuming their season behind closed doors.
The 31 year old defender is asthmatic and his wife, Rea, is pregnant, so he understandably had plenty to consider before the players reported back, something he reflected on in his column for the Athletic.
Chester, who is on loan at Stoke from Aston Villa, said: “I had my coronavirus test on Friday morning and, fortunately, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be.
“Some of the lads had been sending round videos that looked horrific but, having a long cotton bud down my throat and another up my nostrils was fine, really.
“It was a professional set-up at Stoke’s training ground. We stayed in our cars in a drive-thru system. They had a little tent up with the doctors waiting for us to wind our windows down. Then, staff put our kit in the boot ready for this week’s training.
“Seeing six positive results from 748 people in the first round of Premier League testing and two from 996 in the second felt reassuring to me. It seemed low but then I also saw an article saying that compared to the whole nation, it is a higher ratio.
“Still, I’m relaxed about going back — even though I have asthma. I take an inhaler twice a day. I feel comfortable at the prospect of mixing with others though, given social distancing will still be in place. And we’re returning to do something we all love.
“I’ve seen other footballers expressing concerns and, as we know, Troy Deeney and N’Golo Kante have stayed away from training at Watford and Chelsea. Every player has their own situation.
“My wife Rea is pregnant and even our opinion has changed over the last couple of months. When it was first coming into focus that we might go into lockdown and pregnant women were in the vulnerable category, Rea was really worried. But, as the weeks have gone on and the evidence has shown that is perhaps not the case, we have become a lot more at ease with it.
“Then, when it was mooted last week that we might be going back training, we did have a conversation. I wouldn’t say it was overly serious — maybe a minute. If she hadn’t been happy, it would have been a tough decision for me to take. In that case, my family would have taken precedence over the football.
“It’s all personal choice and I have friends who have pregnant wives, who are concerned about returning.”
Chester said players will respect fellow professionals’ decisions about returning.
He explained: “Football changing rooms are quite harsh places. Everyone will have respect for all decisions. Nobody would harbour any grudges or make jokes about anyone not wanting to come back.
“Now, having said that, and given people are still dying, I’m not entirely sure we’re returning for the right reasons. Footballers are not stupid. We can read between the lines when the government says it will boost the morale of the country. We know there are major financial considerations.
“But I do also firmly believe they are taking every precaution to keep us safe.
“We all got an email on Thursday night outlining the protocols. At Stoke, we will be tested every Monday and Thursday, and we’re only training in small groups to begin.
“I have been told we do not yet know how the next phase will proceed. And that will be really interesting. I can envisage teething problems at the point we return to full contact, given there are so many competing factors.
“Until we have confirmation of an actual date for a game, there is still a part of my mind that wonders if we still might not finish. There are just so many questions — even things I hadn’t thought about until recently.
“Travelling to away matches is one hurdle. How are you going to get there? Hotels aren’t operating, so I presume we would get a coach on the day of the game. But in some cases, that’s a long, long way. My overriding feeling is that it’s nice we’re getting closer to having football back, though.”