With League Two clubs having had games postponed already due to players and staff testing positive for Covid-19, we spoke to John Nixon, League Two’s EFL board representative, about the current stance on testing those club members who are directly involved in getting matches played.
“Testing processes and procedures now are probably less expensive than in the early days,” he said. “At the start of the crisis we knew the cost of testing and it was horrendous.
“To try and get the game back on the road again, the Premier League went into a massive testing programme, twice and thrice a week, which we simply couldn’t afford. The Championship got into that as well.
“We were the first, in League Two, to say that we would finish the play-offs, and that obviously required a testing programme for the clubs involved. Every club in League Two agreed that we would pay Exeter, Cheltenham, Northampton and Colchester for their testing.
“That still stands, that will come out of our distributions in the next two seasons. This was based on medical and scientific advice.”
“By the time we started to open up at the end of July/beginning of August, the testing processes were such that the advice was that you need to test everybody before you start, which we did,” he commented.
“We couldn’t use NHS testing, we had to use a specific one. The reason being that you want to go through one set of labs and know that everybody has done it. One club actually did break away and used some other testing.
“We were offered that here in Carlisle, we were told that we could get the test free of charge, but you can’t use it officially because the EFL need the assurance that all of the players had been tested.
“Our players had their tests before we started back, midway through pre-season training, and before we started again, and we were getting negative results all the way through by the time we came to the end.”
With some clubs having had players who have tested positive, he added: “I think it’s inevitable now, after what’s happened over the last week with Leyton Orient in particular, that before this week has ended I will be part of a debate as to additional testing.
“The cost of that and where it comes from, that’s another financial burden. Again, at this point in time, the clubs can’t cope with it. So we’ll be pushing to find a way to getting that covered.”
Many commentators have suggested that burden should fall on the PFA, with growing calls for them to provide some assistance.
“Back in April and May we joined a group of PFA reps, and I was part of it with Gary Neville, and we tried to get the players and PFA to understand the seriousness of the problem with football, and I think it worked,” he told us. “We spread a bit of knowledge about. It would be nice if they could help.
“I know about the £50m which is sitting in the bank, but it’s sitting in a trust account. Despite what anybody says, they’ll have a hell of a job prising that out for day-to-day expenses.
“They’ve got enough problems trying to select a new CEO at present. It would be great if they could help, and I would encourage them to think about helping.”
“Before the end of this week we will be debating different testing processes, because of the current situation,” he revealed. “We’ve also got to ask the question, which we’ve read in the press, as to whether all the clubs followed the protocols. That investigation is taking place.
“But I’m really proud of what Carlisle did a week last Saturday, we did it right and got a great report. So, as a club, we’re ready.
“A personal opinion, if the numbers start to drop, and we can keep below 5,000, I think there’s a chance we’ll start back on the 1,000 in and start moving forward, because the industry needs it.”
So what if more clubs need to postpone games – could the season become almost farcical?
“It’s a real concern, because the season’s already compressed, we’ve got Grimsby who are going to miss the next two games now, and then you’ve got to get them squeezed in and make it credible,” he replied.
“The week after next we start Saturday-Tuesday, Saturday-Tuesday and so on. It’s going to make it really difficult. We’re into a second wave, we don’t know what’s going to happen, if the measures that the country are taken actually start to work, there’s a chance.
“If it doesn’t, I haven’t got a crystal ball, I don’t know what’s going to happen for any of us.”
And with the EFL having urged clubs to lobby their MPs, he confirmed that the club’s chief executive had done just that last week.
“Nigel’s written to our MP, he wrote a really strong and long letter to him,” he confirmed. “It was well received, a lot of clubs have done the same, so we can get the message across to Oliver Dowden and those in government about what we’re trying to do.
“I go back to what we did yesterday. We’re running for a week of virtual EFL Trust conferences, normally a two-day job, if we can get the communities, and get Government to understand it isn’t just football clubs but communities around clubs that keep things going as well, that’s where we’re putting a lot of effort in at present.
“We’ve had a reply and it was very supportive of getting fans back as soon as it is safe to do so.”
We’ll have more from John Nixon on the official website this afternoon.