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'Football needs to come back' - Kevin Doyle believes Premier League return can lift sporting spirits

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Former Ireland striker Kevin Doyle says Premier League players should be ready to play again next month. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Former Ireland striker Kevin Doyle says Premier League players should be ready to play again next month. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Former Ireland striker Kevin Doyle says Premier League players should be ready to play again next month. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Kevin Doyle believes footballers should be ready to return to action next month, as the former Ireland striker backed proposals for Premier League clubs to commence training again in the next few days.

After the Sunday World broke the story last weekend, revealing details of how football chiefs are hoping to get the final 92 matches of the current English season, Doyle has told us that the resumption of football is needed to lift the spirits of sports fans around the world.

While he accepts there will be some who find talk of a restart to be unpalatable – with the death toll from coronavirus edging towards a horrifying figure of 30,000 in the UK – the former Republic of Ireland striker insists hearts will be warmed if sport returns to our lives.

Doyle believes horse racing, golf and football can return in the next few weeks, as he offered up a considered assessment of why we need sport more than ever before.

"You can ask whether it is morally right for us to be thinking about trying to return to football after thousands of people have just died of this virus in England in the last few weeks," he pondered, in an exclusive interview with the Sunday World.

"That is a tough question to answer, but from a personal perspective, I think we have to try and get sport back on and if the doctors and the experts say it is okay, then we have to go with that.

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Brighton chief executive Paul Barber is against completing the Premier League season at neutral venues (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Brighton chief executive Paul Barber is against completing the Premier League season at neutral venues (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Brighton chief executive Paul Barber is against completing the Premier League season at neutral venues (Gareth Fuller/PA)

"There is no chance of fans returning to stadiums for a long time, so it means we have to look at alternative plans and I can't see any harm in it being played behind closed doors," said the striker, who played for Reading, Wolves and Crystal Palace in the Premier League.

"I don't have this view because I'm worried about Liverpool winning the title or who gets relegated. The team I have followed all my life are not involved in the title race this season, so I don't care about the outcome.

"For me, football needs to come back for different reasons as millions of people in England and Ireland are eager for this to happen. I am open to all sports coming back, if we can find a way to do it safely, because people need it in their lives during these difficult times.

"People will be going back to work in the next few weeks, so I don't see why football can't make an attempt to return when some of the lockdown restrictions are relaxed and it would be good for our collective well-being to see football back on our screens.

"There will be people arguing against sport returning, but they probably don't have any interest in it. I think football, horse racing, golf... if we can do it behind closed doors, and do it as safely as possible, we have to try because fans are not coming back for a long time."

While Premier League chiefs are continuing to make plans to resume their season, the French and Dutch leagues have been cancelled in recent days and there are increasing doubts over whether the Italian league will be given the green light to resume by government officials.

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The Premier League want to use eight to 10 neutral venues to complete the remaining 92 matches (Dave Howarth/PA)

The Premier League want to use eight to 10 neutral venues to complete the remaining 92 matches (Dave Howarth/PA)

PA

The Premier League want to use eight to 10 neutral venues to complete the remaining 92 matches (Dave Howarth/PA)

There have also been reports that some Premier League players are uncomfortable with the prospect of returning to training in the current climate, yet Doyle insists they should be ready to strap on their boots and get back to work.

"If I was still playing now, I'd want to get out on the pitch as soon as possible," he continues. "Maybe my attitude would be different if I had someone in my family affected by coronavirus, but we have to look at ways to get life moving again.

"We can't go on like this. People are either going to die from the virus or we could be in a position where the whole country is depressed and goes bankrupt as we wait for a vaccine. We have to find some kind of balance in between those two scenarios.

"It will be interesting to see when the final analysis of this period in our lives pans out.

"How many people are going to die after not being able to have cancer treatments? How many will lose their lives due to depression and other issues arising from this?

"I would imagine that figure will probably be even higher than it is for people dying of the virus in Ireland, so we have to try and limit the damage as much as we can.

"Like a lot of people, I gave up watching the news a long time ago. What's the point? These 24-hour news channels have the gloom on all day and after the first two weeks, I decided there was nothing new to learn, so I have avoided them and we need some joy back in our lives."

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The Premier League has been suspended since March 13 (Martin Rickett/PA)

The Premier League has been suspended since March 13 (Martin Rickett/PA)

PA

The Premier League has been suspended since March 13 (Martin Rickett/PA)

The UK government and Premier League chiefs will face a backlash if someone playing a part in football's return is infected by Covid-19, but Doyle believes risks can be diluted with careful planning.

"If a footballer catches coronavirus, clearly people will say it was a mistake to try and get the Premier League back so soon, but that could happen when you go to the shops or go back to any kind of work," he adds.

"Are things going to be better in August or September than they are now? We just don't know. It might not get any better, so we have to see what is possible.

"If we have around 300 people working at games, which I'm told is the figure they are looking at to get the Bundesliga games back, then we have to make sure that group of people are tested regularly and they don't let the virus into that group.

"All the players will be tested regularly, they will take every precaution to try and make sure the virus is not getting into dressing rooms, so I don't see why it can't go ahead.

"We didn't know where we were going when they shut sport down a few weeks ago, but we are all used to this new reality now and we have to try and find a way to adapt to the world as it is now – and I think football can be a part of that."

With the UK government appearing to be encouraging the return of the Premier League next month, the prospect of matches returning remains a stated aim of all involved in a story that is likely to have plenty of twists and turns before games are back on our TV screens.

Online Editors