Coronavirus concerns grow over big boys visiting minnows in FA Cup third round

It seems to be a case of carry on with the new normal for professional football.

But the increasingly draconian Covid measures and fearful Government language has set the game’s alarm bells ringing.

And while the party lines from the Premier League, the English Football League and the Football Association all stress their intention to continue in the way they have been doing since Project Restart, there is a growing fear amongst clubs that the season could be wrecked by the latest coronavirus development.

So far, the regulations allowing elite competition to go ahead remain in place but with the likes of health minister Matt Hancock suggesting the mutant strain of Covid is now ‘out of control’, there is scepticism within ALL sports about the prospect of remaining unaffected.

The Premier League has done a remarkable job in finishing last season and starting this one with few alarms.

The bio-secure regimes implemented by football’s top tier – both at stadiums and training grounds – are the strictest imaginable.

Only one game, Newcastle ’s match against Aston Villa, has been called off for coronavirus reasons.

But there have been an number of issues further down the pyramid, the latest seeing Millwall’s next two Championship fixtures cancelled because of an outbreak of Covid in the squad.

On January 9, Millwall are scheduled to travel to Boreham Wood for a third round FA Cup tie.

While the Football Association says its competition is an elite event and will go ahead as scheduled, the FA Cup will now come under scrutiny in the light of the latest, dramatic Covid upsurge.

Inevitably, as you go down the professional ladder, facilities are not as extensive as at the very top.

Eight Premier League clubs visit lower league opposition with, for example, Spurs travelling to Marine’s tiny Rossett Park stadium and Brighton going to the Covid hotspot of Newport, where the latest figures showed there to be 912 cases of coronavirus per 100,000 people.

Premier League clubs are being diplomatic about the situation but will privately ask for clarification over what Covid protocols are in place at host grounds.

Premier League players are tested twice a week and exist in their bio-secure bubbles.

That level of detail is impossible to implement in the lower tiers.

With travel into and out of tier 4 areas banned, elite sportsmen and women remain exceptions.

But that Government position could change as more regions face the prospect of falling under the severest restrictions in the coming weeks, if not days.

Premier League officials says they are continually monitoring their Covid protocols and making sure they are enforced rigorously.

They also point out that a game was staged at Leicester when the city was in local lockdown.

Even if the United Kingdom goes back into national lockdown, the Premier League would hope to carry on.

But with travel from here to Europe disappearing, there are also concerns about the Champions League and Europa League.

In the end, it will be scientists and politicians who decide the future of a season already under pressure from an intense club fixture schedule and the Euros in June.

And while the game’s authorities remain outwardly optimistic, the chances of football remaining unaffected by the latest Covid twist seem slim.

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