The last game I went to before the pandemic hit last March was a National League game between Maidenhead United and Stockport County on York Road. The Premier League had already closed its doors by then and after the final whistle, Maidenhead manager Alan Devonshire expressed his horror that the match had been allowed to go on.
“This is about people’s lives and how we played today, I don’t know,” he told a bunch of us as we stood next to the pitch in the empty stadium. “We’ve had 1,600 people here today. Someone could go home and give their grandmother a dose of this coronavirus. How will he feel when that happens?
“I don’t think it’s about football. It is about human well-being. My mother is 88 years old and I worry about her. I go around and see her every day. I have to take care of her and see if she’s okay and if she gets it now because one of us gives it to her, I’ll have to live with that.”
Premier League stars have refused to participate in encouraging other players to take the jab
A lot has happened in our national game in the 18 months that have passed since then. For example, football players found a voice and used it with good results. Jordan Henderson led the #playerstogether campaign to donate wages to the NHS, Marcus Rashford successfully lobbied for an expansion of the free school meal program for underprivileged children, Troy Deeney inspired a players’ movement to protest racist abuse and Tyrone Mings took a stand against the Secretary of the Interior, Priti Patel.
And football came back and the teams played behind closed doors. And a few months after his return, scientists developed a vaccine and started administering it to patients late last year. Over 80 per cent of the eligible UK population has now had both jabs, death rates have fallen and crowds are returning to football matches at all levels, across the country.
And now winter is coming again. And vaccination rates are declining, especially among young people. And beds in children’s wards are starting to fill up as the lockdown has compromised immunity. And the medical community fears another crisis is coming. And now we need football players, with the strength and profile they’ve already put to such good use, to stand up again and convince their own players to get the jab.
Players like Jordan Henderson and Marcus Rashford have used their voices well
There are doubts about the exact numbers due to obvious medical secrecy issues, but there are mounting concerns that Premier League players in particular are refusing to be vaccinated against Covid-19. A report last week estimated the number of unvaccinated individuals at 70 percent. That is disputed, but no one denies that football has a problem.
Just as importantly, the Premier League has so far found it impossible to persuade any of their leading players to run a campaign urging the importance of vaccination as a step to improve the health of players and their protecting families and, as an added benefit, ensuring football can go on all winter long. The silence is deafening.
Perhaps some are hesitant because of what happened to Gareth Southgate when he spoke about the matter. Southgate recently said he had suffered more abuse for speaking out about vaccination than anything he ever did as England manager, including his choice of penalty takers for the Euro 2020 final against Italy.
However, there is a deafening silence among players to promote the vaccination
Some may laugh and ask why football players should be asked to give their opinion on the benefits of vaccination, but they miss the point. Fortunately, we have reached a stage in this country where we recognize that there are smart, intelligent players who have the power to influence people for good and whose message often outweighs the message of discredited politicians, especially among young people.
I have long believed that it is a good thing that footballers use their platform for good in politics and in social welfare and in race relations and if that is the case then it makes sense that they use it to help their colleagues and the young to be vaccinated for the winter.
This is not a strange position we ask of them. It is just as clear and distinctly beneficial to the football community and the community at large as Rashford’s campaign.
Only fools and conspiracy theorists and those who care more about the sound of their own voice than about the well-being of their fellows are on the other side. If the number of vaccinated Premier League stars falls behind the rest of the population, things are not looking good. It plays on the old and lazy ideas of football players as selfish and irresponsible. It would be a shame if so much of the good work they’ve done was undone.
Gareth Southgate revealed he was abused for speaking out against the vaccine
Instead, players have one more chance to stand up for what’s right and ignore the ravings of those who have mixed their hatred of the mainstream media and government agencies with an absurdly irresponsible embrace of the anti-vaxxer movement. Sure there will be noise, but they would have the satisfaction of knowing they are doing the right thing.
The best course of action would be a united front: all the captains of the 20 league clubs come together, as they have done on other issues, to make a video calling on their colleagues to do the right thing by their teammates and the general population by getting the vaccine.
What does it look like when many clubs ask the supporters for a vaccination certificate when they enter the stadium and yet the players who come to encourage the supporters refuse to abide by the same rules? In any case, it looks right. At worst, it looks spoiled, irresponsible and mindless.
Players should not be forced to take the vaccine, but they should also understand that there will be consequences if they do not. I understand that some harbor people are afraid of it. I heard from a club that one of their players had a bad experience with a reaction to a previous vaccination and that has understandably made him reluctant to take the Covid-19 jab. Another has a fear of needles.
Again, they should not be forced to take the vaccine — or convert to it — just as no one is forced to have their children get the MMR vaccine, take a tetanus shot, or protect themselves against polio. It’s stupid not to, but if they want to be stupid, that’s their prerogative.
But what those players need to know is that if they continue to refuse to be vaccinated, they endanger the health of their teammates’ families and the general population. They may feel invincible, but is their teammate’s grandmother invincible? How will those people feel about their position?
Those are the questions they should ask themselves. Just like Alan Devonshire asked questions the week the pandemic hit. And if they’ve thought about the answers, maybe they’ll realize it’s time to stand up and do the right thing and set an example and use their platform to urge those who haven’t yet been vaccinated to take it. to get it done.