Keeping players fit during shutdown a challenge for many clubs like Rochdale

Players in lower tier of football don't have their own gym or facilities

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The shutdown has offered an insight into footballers’ lives. There have been glimpses of supersized back gardens and private gyms as Premier League players more accustomed to training at deluxe compounds have sought to stay in shape.

Further down the pyramid, they do not tend to have the same wealth of facilities. “Our lads are having to be really creative,” said Brian Barry-Murphy, manager of League One Rochdale. Hence potential sights of professional footballers in the Greater Manchester trying to work on their fitness in unusual places.

Only Dale’s oldest player, a 40-year-old whose first career goal came before the 1998 World Cup and whose January strike against Newcastle in the FA Cup meant he had scored in four decades, has private facilities. “Aaron Wilbraham is our sole gym owner,” added Barry-Murphy. “Even though he has said in the past he has a pool, I don’t think he has.”

On government orders, public gyms were closed from Saturday. Rochdale’s players had been avoiding them anyway, playing it safe to reduce the risk of infection.

“The feedback from our fitness staff was to avoid gymnasiums because of the guidelines from the government,” Barry-Murphy said. Instead, he added: “I have seen our lads doing canal runs in Manchester or hill runs or running along golf courses. It is finding creative ways of keeping in shape. They have all taken on board what has been said because I do feel they have a great sense they are role models and have to be behaving and showing the rest of us the way to go.”

All professional football in England has been postponed until April 30 but Barry-Murphy said: “In all realism we aren’t going to be back on that date.” It raises the issue not just of when they return, but how long players need to get match sharp.


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“There is a chance a lot of players are going to be inactive for three, four, five weeks,” Barry-Murphy added. “We are going into a spell which will be like a close season. It is going to be three, four, five, six weeks. The only difference is that it is not at the end of a season so lads are not as fatigued in the footballing sense, they are a little bit fresher."

In close season, however, managers would have longer to prepare for their first game. “In this situation, we are not going to have an ideal lead in,” Barry-Murphy said.

“Everyone has to devise those programmes in a shorter period of time. It is a journey of discovery that we have never encountered before. It is an extraordinary set of circumstances but it is almost like another part of our learning.”

Rochdale have 10 games remaining. Is it possible, then, to run this season into next and in effect have a 56-game campaign when football resumes? “Physically the feedback from the players and everyone involved is there would have to be some sort of break just to allow the players to perform going into next season,” Barry-Murphy said. “I think they are all accepting it is going to be a compressed period in terms of the close season.”

So far, Rochdale have had no cases of coronavirus. If the game resumes, perhaps footballers could be at more risk. “None of the players are worried about themselves,” Barry-Murphy said. “Footballers just want to play but the big concern is what they are going to do to other members of their family. From a footballing perspective, would they be worried? I would say no but I think they feel a responsibility to provide of an example of what should be done.”