For the first time since the coronavirus pandemic brought a halt to football matches being played, Premier League players were back at the top of the news headlines earlier this week with the announcement they had formed the #PlayersTogether initiative, a contribution fund through which they can channel their own donations into the NHS frontline by partnering with an NHS charity umbrella organisation.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson was at the forefront of setting it up and naturally a lot of the organisation was via the other club captains. Our own skipper, Cesar Azpilicueta, tells us here about how #PlayersTogether became a reality and how it is running in parallel with plenty of other schemes in football offering aid in various ways, including those organised or assisted by Chelsea Football Club.
He begins with the timeline that led to this week’s players’ announcement.
‘Jordan Henderson contacted me about his idea of doing something together and from the first moment I thought it was an amazing idea to bring the Premier League players together, players from many, many countries with different cultures, with different backgrounds, to get them involved during this difficult time we are all experiencing now with the coronavirus,’ Azpilicueta says.
‘I forwarded the message straight to the players and the answer was very positive, they wanted to be part of it and I am very glad because we have been working on that for quite a while. To make it happen I think is something unique.
‘It is not easy [to set up] because we are a lot of players and we want to help, we want to be involved with the problems, but also we want to have the security that the donations are going to the right people at the right time when they are needed. So some people have been working really hard to get it done, making it secure and knowing everything for the information we are giving to the players. That is very important.’
Azpilicueta explains that right from the start, the players wanted their scheme up and running as quickly as possible given the urgency of the medical crisis. With the assurances they needed in place and the announcement made, donations should now be contributing to the cause.
‘I think the only way it is going to go is to keep growing and hopefully we can help a lot of people,’ he adds, before explaining it was in the pipeline before some outside parties and media put pressure on the players.
‘When you see the amount of work that football players do with charities and with the communities that we work with, with our own foundations and with the clubs, I think it was inappropriate to hear those kind of comments,’ he says. ‘PlayersTogether was something that was initiated before that and as I said, we needed time to make it right and work in the way that everybody wanted. In the end we got it and I am very happy with the final result.’
The Premier League players’ initiative is one way Azpilicueta is providing aid but he is also working closely with his club on other help during the pandemic. There is a wide range of projects underway involving Chelsea which he details.
‘We have two of our team doctors joining the NHS,’ he reveals.
‘The club offered the hotel at Stamford Bridge to hospitals in London for their staff to use, that is a massive help and we are involved with the domestic abuse charity Refuge, helping to raise money with the club doubling the donations given.
‘The players have the responsibility to help with the club and we have things like the virtual classrooms with Chelsea players joining the Chelsea Foundation’s teachers via video.
‘The virtual soccer schools are amazing for the kids to keep on playing football, as at this moment they cannot go to play football with their friends but with these they can be involved in football and keep the exercise, and there’s the mental health which is also very important. There are calls from Chelsea staff to elderly Chelsea fans.
‘I think what it shows most is that in this difficult moment, the football family came together to help and I am very proud of it.’
While #PlayersTogether is a way for Premier League stars to donate to the UK’s NHS fight against the virus, some players from overseas have the option to help out in their own countries.
‘We are football players but we are people from the street and from the society and we are aware of all the problems in life,’ explains Azpilicueta. ‘We try to help as much as we can from our position and in this crisis we are also ones who try to help in our countries and in our local communities where we are coming from, because everybody is experiencing difficult moments.
‘It is important to help each other and to stick together and that is the only way we can go through this, by being together and respecting the rules. I am sure everybody, we are trying to help, not only in the country we are living in at the moment but also in our own countries.’
Pedro spoke recently about his foundation being involved in the medical effort in Spain which is particularly badly hit. It is a homeland he of course shares with Azpilicueta.
‘The situation is really bad,’ confirms our captain. ‘With the lockdown it looks like things are improving a bit but it will take time to come back to life as normal because Spain has been one of the countries that has been most affected by this virus, but I am sure that all together we can go through this.’
It is one case in far too many but the situation in Spain was highlighted to the English football community by the passing of Pep Guardiola’s mother.
‘That was really bad news to hear that and I send my condolences to him, it is very sad,’ Azpilicueta says.
While clearly missing football, the Chelsea skipper is appreciating spending time with his family and with him having three children, there is no opportunity to get bored. It includes helping out with the home schooling and remembering those old lessons.
‘Every day is harder and harder for the children but they are coping well and they behave and they are trying to do their best.
‘I have been here eight years but you are always trying to improve your English and sometimes when we do the reading my daughter, she can teach me how to spell something that I might get wrong. You are always learning!’
At other times, Azpilicueta has been having a go at quizzes on our 5th Stand app, including one all about himself. He shared his score on social media, as he also did a video of him training football with his dog!
‘I like to have different kinds of training and my dog is very active and he loves to come with me,’ he explains.
‘I am quite active during the day and everything is fine, I am healthy which is the most important thing.’