Roger Alton

Footballers have made a pig’s ear of Covid rules

Footballers have made a pig’s ear of Covid rules
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It’s the Portuguese piglet you feel really sorry for. The diminutive (ready cooked) porker — a festive delicacy all over the Iberian peninsula — was a Christmas gift from Spurs manager José Mourinho to his talented fullback Sergio Reguilon, on loan from Real Madrid. José, showing a robust approach to the intricacies of Veganuary, thought his player, a long way from his family, would be feeling lonely.

As it turns out he needn’t have worried. Reguilon was one of a considerable number of Premier League players who were able to seek solace and good company at a series of jolly Christmas and new year parties, hosted by teammates and featuring considerable numbers of attractive young women wearing Santa Claus hats and not a great deal else. And of course, as you do, posting the lot on Instagram. Awkward.

So it can’t have been much of a surprise that Covid has been rampaging through the Premier League — West Ham, Manchester City, Fulham and Palace to name a few —forcing cancellations, and wreaking havoc as well throughout the lower leagues. Quite why the clubs haven’t come down hard, and publicly, on individual players is beyond most of us. Still, I hope the suckling pig yielded some tasty sandwiches after training.

Mourinho was in top form when the party pictures emerged: ‘As a club of course we feel disappointed because we give the players all the education… all the conditions, and of course we are not happy. It was a negative surprise for us.’ There could be a few more negative surprises before the season’s out.

But should everything go belly up, there’s clearly a career in the food industry awaiting José. He had previously given that gourmand defender Reguilon a leg of jamón ibérico, reportedly for keeping a lid on Riyad Mahrez during Spurs’ excellent 2-0 win over Manchester City.

‘A promise is a promise,’ wrote the silver fox of Portugal with a picture of the jamon. ‘It cost me £500 but I keep my promises.’ A very good idea for a bonus, that: beats the festive hamper any day.

If anyone deserves a bonus it’s Karen Carney. The former England player turned top-class commentator came in for a pile-on of Twitter bile after suggesting that Leeds were helped to maintain their nonstop running game by being forced to take a Covid break. The fact that she is a woman is only part of the reason that she drives the blowhards so crazy. What really winds people up is that she’s highly articulate, very good at her job and has strong views. I wish she had just ignored the abuse and not deleted her Twitter account. Football needs voices like hers, but now the abusers see she is vulnerable they won’t leave her alone.

As we walked out of Johannesburg’s Ellis Park that July afternoon in 2009, after watching the British Lions beat South Africa 28-9 in one of the great rugby matches, burly Boks fans seized us warmly by the arm and said: ‘We’ll see you in 12 years. Good luck.’ Well, maybe not any more: the tour seems to be in danger. That poor beleaguered country is getting fried by Covid, and I can’t imagine many people looking forward to a trip to South Africa right now — or 40,000 Lions supporters preparing to pack their red jerseys.

The loss of a Lions tour would devastate fans everywhere, though Covid is but a passing hazard. The sport is in the most critical period in its history, with dementia, lawsuits, and life-changing injuries all pressing down. Ask yourself how many mothers you know who don’t want their sons playing rugby. The game is facing an existential threat and action is urgently needed.