News that Newcastle United is in the midst of a COVID-19 epidemic, largely we’ve been told due to the virus spreading from the club’s Darsley Park training ground won’t have surprised many.

There is also considerable scepticism at the numbers reportedly having tested positive and it’s thought to be way above the 11 appearing in the media. Having had to postpone the away trip to Villa last week, it is now increasingly likely the home game with West Brom is in doubt for the same reasons.  

Does this come as any surprise to anyone who has been observing the mismanagement of our club over the last thirteen years?

If there was one club you’d have predicted this to happen at it would be one owned by Mike Ashley and coached by Steve Bruce.

As I chatted to a Mag of my acquaintance today, we commented ruefully that this hasn’t happened at Sunderland AFC despite them being a study in how not to run a football club. 

You might wonder how a relatively small operation such as a professional football club could find itself in this position. After all, this is a modest enterprise in terms of number of employees with a full time medical staff as part of its set up. So you have to wonder what measures have been implemented under the management of Steve Bruce to mitigate against exactly the position United now finds itself in.

You might ask about the Newcastle United medical staff and COVID-19.

Back in September, (23/Sep/20 – click hereCraig Hope of The Mail reported that two members of the medical team at the club – first-team physio Michael Harding and soft tissue therapist Wayne Farrage had apparently been suspended from duty. This was pending an investigation into two men who appear to be fully competent in their roles up until that point. Naturally, the club has made no comment but the information I have is that they were subsequently dismissed.

There has been no subsequent reporting of the matter. I have had a private explanation for the reasons but I regard it as hearsay at the moment without confirmation.

There has been no comment on why two members of the club’s medical team have been dismissed. It is also strange there has been no further reporting around that such is the appetite in the local press in particular to publish pretty much anything let’s be honest. 

Within Craig Hope’s article as above also refers to “several confirmed cases of Covid-19 inside Newcastle’s academy”. Reminder that was back in September. 

More than two and a half months later, the situation has now worsened. The training ground is in lock-down and a PL game has been postponed with another likely to follow this weekend. The first team is unable to train. 

Why Newcastle United? Bad luck? I don’t buy that. 

There are unanswered questions.

The first that no-one at the club has deigned to explain (obviously) or the press has thought worthy of reporting, centres on the rationale for the dismissal of two senior members of the medical team in the midst of  a global pandemic – but also the staffing and competence of the team more widely following their departure.  Why has this happened at Newcastle United and not Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Aston Villa, Man City et al? What is the peculiar environment, the circumstances for this to land at Newcastle United?  But not say at Sunderland? Or Boro? 

Many of you reading this have direct experience of how COVID-19 is impacting the workplace. Employers have put measures in place to ensure any outbreak of COVID-19 is contained, so business can continue. Indeed hundreds of professional sports clubs come into this category too. Only a minority find themselves in Newcastle United’s place in the UK and certainly none others of its resources.

You have to ask serious questions of the competence of the people overseeing core operations at Newcastle United that a situation that first became apparent in September has now spiralled into December, getting much worse.

What has been done to manage this situation in the interim? What additional investment has there been in facilities, provision, staffing and processes to deal with this?

I would now expect United to be working with Public Health professionals to undertake a thorough investigation as to how this has apparently been to get out of control. 

Whether this work will come into the public domain remains to be seen. It is incumbent upon those with the time and contact books to dig into this and present us with some account of how this has gone so badly wrong. How instead of being managed back in September this has become progressively worse.

What Bruce has reportedly told the press regarding his thoughts as to how this has landed on United does not inspire confidence. Without much evidence to support his theory, Bruce has pointed to players returning from international duty as the explanation for the latest outbreak. But what players? Is that the experience of international team-mates and the clubs they have returned to? Or is it just Bruce sticking his finger in the air and wondering which way the wind is blowing? 

Was it possible to foresee players returning from international duty as presenting an additional risk? If so, what did United do to mitigate against that?

You will also recall a certain celebrated former manager of this parish of Spanish stock who regularly raised concerns as to the limitations of  Darsley Park. Space and lay-out were amongst Senor Benitez’s concerns. You’ll remember Lee Charnley waving his concerns away about facilities being “adequate”. Thanks Lee, that dealt with that then didn’t it?

There have also been references to the amount of testing the club has done and it appears they have been performing the bare minimum. Sound familiar?   

There is a lot of information out there covering the gradual unravelling of Newcastle United’s management of COVID-19 risk. It just needs to be stitched together.

But the inescapable conclusion I can’t help draw is that a club that has suffered from a long term and chronic lack of investment has been found out and exposed. Add into that mix professional ineptitude and it is no surprise we have come to this pass.

Whether the Premier League and the FA will continue to be so forgiving in future will be interesting to observe.

Keep On, Keepin’ On …

MICHAEL MARTIN