First of a four-part series: European football's competitions may be on hold, but the world's most popular sport still has a front-line role to play in society's response to COVID-19.
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COVID-19 has temporarily postponed UEFA plans to celebrate 60 years of EURO with a tournament bridging the entire continent, but the European football community remains more united than ever in its off-the-field response to the pandemic. From Amsterdam to Zagreb, national associations, clubs and players have launched countless initiatives to ensure more people comply with government regulations on social distancing and staying at home.
With the aim of inspiring others, this four-part blog highlights the different ways that football is making a difference across Europe: whether raising funds to purchase medical equipment, producing training videos about staying fit at home, delivering food to the elderly and vulnerable or using the sport's enormous reach to deliver vital health messages.
PART 1/4: A to I
Azerbaijan: putting a smile back on the faces of football fans
In a national campaign to boost the morale of football fans and their families staying at home, Azerbaijan's Professional Football League (PFL) is sharing fun photos from domestic league matches on its Instagram channels.
The players, coaching staff and employees at FC Sabah have collected more than €25,000 to support a National Fund against Coronavirus. The same club has also produced a video in support of the nation's doctors and nurses, working day and night to treat patients with COVID-19.
Croatia's stars show how to practise your skills without breaking rules – or windows!
The Croatian Football Federation (HNS) estimates the national emergency measures introduced to slow the spread of COVID-19 are stopping 100,000 young footballers from training with their clubs. To help, the federation has started #vježbajdoma or 'practise at home'. Every day, top-flight youth-team fitness coaches as well as players post a video on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram giving personal tips on how to keep fit and practise new skills without crossing the boundaries of social distance.
"Fortunately, we live in times when we can reach anybody's home with digital technology," says Petar Krpan, the HNS's head coach who created the campaign with fellow HNS fitness instructor Ivan Krakan. "We believe this is the ideal way to motivate these youngsters to work on themselves during these challenging times."
In addition to helping young footballers cope with isolation, the federation has produced a video featuring the entire national team squad. Played on national television, the players appeal to thousands of Croatian football fans to comply with key World Health Organization (WHO) and health ministry recommendations on slowing the virus's spread. National stars are also playing their part in #vježbajdoma.
Solidarity and social responsibility
The HNS is also donating €130,000 to five Croatian hospitals – in the capital Zagreb as well as Osijek, Pula, Rijeka and Split – to purchase equipment and medical supplies needed for the treatment of patients infected with COVID-19. "Although football is also extremely economically affected by this epidemic, we believe that this is a time for solidarity and social responsibility, which is why we have made this donation," said HNS President Davor Šuker.
After Croatia's biggest earthquake in 140 years shook the capital Zagreb on 22 March, at the same time that people were following social distancing regulations, the national team collected more than €600,000 in response to Coronavirus and earthquake aid appeals: Croatia against Coronavirus and Together for Zagreb.
"We stand with all our heart with the people who have shown great courage, ability and strength in this crisis, from doctors and nurses, firefighters, police officers, soldiers and members of the Civil Protection Staff to the people who work daily for us to live relatively normally, such as dealers, deliverers and many others. We will win together again," the Croatian team and professional staff said in a joint statement.
Cyprus: food, funds and medicine for elderly
AEL Limassol have partnered with the KEPAKY Foundation and local actor Costas Vychas to set up the Yellow Solidarity and Helpline for vulnerable groups and the elderly in need of financial support, food and medication. Another Cypriot club, Apollon Limassol, have teamed up with a local dietician to create an emergency food bank.
Czech Republic: "I cannot just sit and do nothing"
Michal Sadílek, midfielder for the national Under-21 team and PSV Eindhoven, has donated 500,000 Czech koruna to his home-town hospital in Uherske Hradiste – as well as Uničov, a town recently placed in lockdown – to purchase medical equipment. "I cannot just sit and do nothing. I would like to support doctors and nurses who have to work hard for all of us now to heal the world," said Sadílek, unable to travel to the Czech Republic because of travel restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Jablonec and Slovan Liberec, local rivals in North Bohemia, are selling tickets for their postponed derby to raise funds for the Liberec hospital. Meanwhile, second division side Zbrojovka Brno are selling memorabilia – match programmes, videos etc – of their legendary 1996 match against Slavia Praha to raise money for the Bohunice hospital.
To help coaches and players stay fit while they are isolating at home, the Czech Republic's national association is publishing training videos on the My first goal platform.
Online coaching library opens doors to every Danish home
Like many national associations, the Danish Football Association (DBU) is using its online coaching resources to help people, especially children, keep active when staying at home or needing to keep social distance. Its skill-based exercises are helpfully divided by age range and include simple messages promoting good hygiene.
England: football's staying home
As part of the English FA's 'Football's staying home' campaign, members of England's men's, women's and Under-21 national squads will put their FIFA 20 skills to the test by competing from their own homes in the inaugural edition of the #FootballsStayingHome Cup.
The list of England internationals taking part includes: Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Mason Mount, Callum Wilson, James Maddison, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Tammy Abraham. Lionesses trio Lucy Bronze, Jordan Nobbs and Ellie Roebuck are also in the starting line-ups, as well as U21 players Reiss Nelson, Todd Cantwell, Max Aarons, Eddie Nketiah and Ryan Sessegnon.
Kick-off is scheduled for 10 April (17:00 UK time) with games on @England's Twitter and YouTube channels and live commentary by Brandon Smith and Richard Buckley. Online spectators will be able to donate to the National Emergencies Trust, which is channelling funds to a network of 50 community foundations across the UK helping people in need.
With the help of past and present England players, as well as experts from St. George's Park, 'Football's staying home' is also using football to help fans cope with staying in their own homes – from providing tips to staying safe and healthy to doing football activities to keep your body and mind active. The whole football community – fans, players, parents, teams, leagues and County FAs – can support the campaign by creating their own content and using #FootballsStayingHome. The best posts will be featured in an online hub at TheFA.com/FootballsStayingHome.
In a voluntary initiative, Premier League players have launched #PlayersTogether, a fund-raising partnership with National Health Service Charities Together (NHSCT) to support the UK's National Health Service. Liverpool's Jordan Henderson, Manchester United's Harry Maguire, Watford's Troy Deeney and West Ham's Mark Noble will help administer the funds.
In a joint statement, the players said: "The contributions that this initiative will generate will help NHSCT quickly grant funds to the front line to support in a number of ways, including to help enhance the well-being of NHS staff, volunteers and patients impacted by COVID-19."
English Football League
The English Football League (EFL) has agreed to release a £50m short-term relief fund to help clubs facing cash-flow problems. The fund includes the early release of award payments, and an interest-free loan facility. Under the terms of the relief fund:
• Championship (second-tier) clubs have received their remaining £800,000 award payment from the Premier League. They can also apply for a £584,000 interest-free loan.
• League One clubs: equivalent figures are £250,000 and £183,000.
• League Two clubs: equivalent figures are £164,000 and £120,000.
EFL Futures, a scheme that rewards clubs for giving opportunities to home-grown youth players, will distribute an additional £1m on a pro-rata basis.
From the Premier League to League Two, clubs have rallied behind the government's call to action: Stay at Home, Protect the NHS, Save lives.
Brighton and Hove Albion have started a campaign to collect 100,000 free tickets for health workers across the United Kingdom in recognition of their front-line role in fighting COVID-19. Fellow south-coast side Bournemouth have already agreed to add their own tickets to Brighton's offer of 1,000. Players and staff from both of these clubs are also making supportive calls to their elderly, vulnerable fans.
Following a request from the local National Health Service Trust, League Two club Plymouth Argyle have handed over the use of a new grandstand at their Home Park stadium to ease the pressure on Devon's primary hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Home Park's changing rooms, boardroom and conference hall – only opened in December 2019 – are now fitted out to provide routine medical services. The NHS is also set to use the City of Manchester Stadium to train doctors and nurses, while Watford's Vicarage Road stadium will be adapted to serve as an annex to the nearby Watford General Hospital.
Former players Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs are using their two co-owned hotels in Manchester – Hotel Football and the Stock Exchange – to host NHS workers unable to return home to see their families; Chelsea have done the same with their Millennium Hotel at Stamford Bridge.
Arsenal have made a number of vehicles and drivers available to local NHS mental health workers, so they can continue delivering vital services to the community; the north London club have also donated £100,000 to local charities, which rely on public donations to fund their activities. Likewise, Wolverhampton Wanderers and their ownership group Fosun have donated thousands of items of protective equipment, including clothing and masks, to healthcare teams working in the city's hospital.
Appeals to help elderly and vulnerable
Stevenage of League Two have launched a hotline signposting services for the over-70s, and are enlisting their players and fans to deliver hot food. "We are no longer a football club at present. We are turning the club into a community careline," said Stevenage's chief executive, Alex Tunbridge.
Premier League leaders Liverpool have launched The LFC Emergency Foodbank Appeal, inviting fans to make a charitable donation to the Trussell Trust Foodbank network via the Facebook pages for LFC and the LFC Foundation, its charitable arm. All proceeds will provide emergency assistance to families and vulnerable people living in food poverty. Liverpool had previously donated £40,000 to Fans Supporting Foodbanks (FSF). Players and the LFC Foundation have committed £10,000 per game for the final four home fixtures of the season to cover the impact of lost matchday collections, with Henderson coordinating donations from the Liverpool squad.
Manchester City and Manchester United are also helping the Trussell Trust, each donating £50,000 to support the trust's 1,200 food banks in Greater Manchester.
Everton's 'Blue Family' campaign has raised £50,000 to cover critical community services including:
• Delivery of food parcels
• Financial assistance for prescription purchases
• Mobile phone credit for people living alone
• Support for increased fuel bills and mental health advice.
Trained staff have also sent exercise and mindfulness videos to vulnerable supporters, while the Everton Fan Centre has made thousands of calls to the elderly and isolated to maintain contact. The club's Italian coach Carlo Ancelotti personally called a fan with motor neurone disease.
Following the postponement of Aston Villa's home match with Chelsea in March, the Aston Villa Foundation distributed almost 1,000 packed lunches intended for matchday staff to local organisations and accommodation units caring for Birmingham's homeless community. Similarly, Newcastle United donated 1,200 pies to a city foodbank after their St James' Park fixture against Sheffield United was postponed.
Caring for football's matchday staff
Both Manchester United and Everton have announced their commitment to paying both matchday and non-matchday casual workers if the clubs' remaining Premier League fixtures are cancelled or played behind closed doors. Arsenal have also confirmed they will continue to pay matchday and non-matchday workers on payroll up to 30 April.
Everton and Everton in the Community have committed to paying all directly engaged matchday and non-matchday casual workers for the rest of the season.
France: Les Bleus support front-line healthcare staff
The French Football Federation (FFF), together with the national team's players and coaching staff, are making a significant donation to France's Assistance Publique – Hôpitaux de Paris (AP-HP) to support healthcare staff working on the front lines of the national response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The contribution will go specifically towards improving the daily lives of caregivers as well as funding research in all French hospitals.
The FFF has also reserved 5,000 places at the Stade de France for healthcare staff to watch the national team's first home match once football is able to resume, with another 1,000 tickets available for the women's national team's return to action.
Bundesliga UEFA Champions League participants show solidarity
Germany's 2018/19 UEFA Champions League participants – Borussia Dortmund, Bayern München, Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen – have set up a solidarity fund worth €20m to help clubs in both the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga who are struggling to cope with the economic consequences of German football's shutdown. "We have always said that we will show solidarity if clubs are at fault because of this exceptional situation," said Hans-Joachim Watzke, Dormund's CEO.
To establish the fund, the four clubs will forego their share of the undistributed national media revenue from the German Football League (DFL) for the 2020/21 season (approximately €12.5m) and also allocate €7.5m of their own resources. "This campaign underlines that solidarity in the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga is not lip service," said Christian Seifert, spokesman for the DFL Presidium.
Among the many clubs and players using social media to show how to keep physically fit, Germany midfielder Toni Kroos is posting videos on his Instagram page demonstrating skills that people can practise safely in their house or garden.
Gibraltar: did someone say free pizza for health workers?
From kit men to the general secretary, the Gibraltar Football Association (GFA) has mobilised on several fronts, from running awareness campaigns and purchasing personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers to addressing the mental health risks of self-isolation and exploring e-learning courses for children studying at home.
Raising awareness: Gibraltar's national men's and women's team members plus referees took part in WHO's #SafeHands Challenge, posting four videos. The same players also appeared in a StaySafeHome video encouraging everyone to stay at home while national team captain Roy Chipolina delivered a personal video message to football fans and local communities.
Supporting public services: the GFA is purchasing extra PPE for front-line healthcare workers, doctors and nurses. In addition to organising a weekly pizza night at the main hospital, the GFA has purchased iPads so patients and healthcare workers can stay in touch with their families. Football's governing body is also sponsoring Gibraltar Heath Authority's own social media campaign and providing content.
Coping with isolation: two stars of the national team have helped produce home workout videos to help families stay fit at a time when training facilities are in lockdown. The GFA is also exploring how to support the Education Ministry with e-learning courses for children, as well as working with mental health charities to encourage people to talk openly about the pressures of self-isolation.
Greece: fans and players donate blood to health service
Veterans of Greece's UEFA EURO 2004-winning team and current members of the national side are leading a social media campaign in which footballers are asking fans to donate blood to the nation's health service.
PSAP, Greece's football players' union, has donated medical material to Athens hospitals.
Hungary: Federation makes donation to front-line organisations
The Hungarian Football Federation (MLSZ), including staff and national team players, has donated over €85,000 to three organisations working on the front lines of the fight to contain COVID-19: the National Ambulance Services, the Children Catering Foundation and the Szent László Kórház – a hospital treating many of the country's COVID-19 patients. The donation was channelled through the Játékidő Alapítvány Foundation run by Mainz striker Ádám Szalai.
Using the motto #csakegyutt ('only together'), national team players have also posted short video messages on Facebook appealing to the public to stay at home to slow the virus's spread.
First the Thunderclap, now Áfram Ísland: Iceland keeps moving
The Football Association of Iceland (KSÍ) has launched a social media campaign called Áfram Ísland or 'keeping moving'. This encourages young footballers and their families to keep fit and hone their skills ready for the day football can safely kick off again. Every day, video clips of FA training exercises for ten-year-olds are posted on Instagram and Facebook. Sometimes they include a personal message from members of the men's or women's national teams.
The campaign has received extensive coverage in the national media, with Iceland international Hannes Halldórsson's training tips proving a big hit with Iceland's young footballers. Some club sides have released videos of players teaching skills that are easy to practise indoors.
Republic of Ireland: national team stars help League of Ireland players
Republic of Ireland internationals James McClean, Kevin Long and Enda Stevens are among a group of players supporting an emergency fund for League of Ireland players during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Azzurri set #TheRulesOfTheGame for defeating COVID-19
The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) is running #TheRulesOfTheGame, a campaign capitalising on the power of football to increase public compliance, particularly among the young, with 11 critical 'rules' essential to containing the spread of COVID-19 and helping people through self-isolation.
Leading male and female national team players are delivering the rules through video messages with the hashtag #TheRulesoftheGame:
"Doctors, you are our captain. We should all follow their advice – Stay at Home"
"Keep your Distance – this is not a match like others"
The campaign also allows Italians to donate money to support national health facilities.
Among Serie A clubs, Roma's foundation Roma Cares is delivering food and sanitary devices to all season-ticket holders aged over 75.