‘I was in Wuhan just days before the outbreak’ – Butcher on his coronavirus near miss and why finishing season is ‘non-negotiable’

Terry Butcher was coaching in China as recently as December. Photo: Archant

Terry Butcher was coaching in China as recently as December. Photo: Archant - Credit: Archant

Ipswich Town and England legend Terry Butcher says English football completing the 2019/20 season should be ’non-negotiable’ following the decision to postpone this summer’s European Championships.

Terry Butcher was recently started a bespoke coaching role at Ipswich Town. Photo: Archant

Terry Butcher was recently started a bespoke coaching role at Ipswich Town. Photo: Archant - Credit: Archant

UEFA announced yesterday that play-off matches and international friendlies that were scheduled for the end of this month will now be played in the international window at the start of June, subject to a review of the ever-evolving coronavirus crisis.

Euro 2020, which was scheduled to take place in 12 cities across the continent from June 12 to July 12, has been pushed back to the summer of 2021. That will give domestic leagues across Europe, many suspended until April 4 at the very least, the best possible chance of completing their current campaigns before a targeted cut-off point of June 30.

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Whether that is feasible, given the British government’s projections that the crisis is likely to peak in 10 to 14 weeks, remains to be seen.

“Calling off all the international games and putting back the Euros seems very sensible,” said Butcher. “Not just from a public safety point of view, which is quite clearly the most important thing, but also from a football one. Even if it had been possible to get them underway in June/July, would players have been going into them fit and sharp? I doubt it. The quality of the tournament could have been very poor and the atmosphere too, if not many people could attend.

“This now gives the various countries the best possible chance of finishing this season’s domestic leagues. You certainly can’t see everything just starting up again in April, May is probably going to be a push as well, but I do think that we need to make sure that the season is played to a conclusion and then next season is adjusted accordingly.

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“No matter how long it takes, the leagues must be finished. For me, that’s non-negotiable. If they were to declare this season null and void, having played more than three quarters of it, then that would be utterly wrong.

“Aston Villa are in the relegation zone but have a game in hand. Who’s to say they wouldn’t win that? That’s just one example. Others would say recent form suggests they had a strong chance of qualifying for Europe, or securing automatic promotion or getting in the play-offs. There would be all sorts of legal stuff flying around.

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“If only a third or quarter of the season had been played then it might different, but there aren’t that many games to go. Call it off in December, fair enough. But to call if all off now would send out a bad signal. It wouldn’t be fair.

“This is an unprecedented situation, so we’ve just got to go with the flow and listen to the medical experts. Sport will adapt, life will adapt, people will adapt.”

Butcher only returned from a Caribbean cruise last Friday. A day later, the USA announced it was closing its borders to residents of the UK. This wasn’t his only near miss with coronavirus disruptions either. Towards the end of last year, he was working in China as a defensive coach at Guangzhou R&F.

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“I was actually in Wuhan (the origin of the Covid-19 outbreak) last November, just days before the outbreak,” he says. “We’d played there in our third last game of the season. There was no sign or talk of the virus then.

“The season finished at the start of December, I spoke to (manager) Dragan Stojkovic and we were working on an exciting pre-season schedule, talking about doing a camp in Thailand or Israel, and I flew home to Suffolk. Then news came at the start of January that Dragan had got the sack (being replaced by former Arsenal player Giovanni van Bronckhorst) and, as usual, that means all the backroom staff go as well. So I didn’t go back out to China...

“Guangzhou is the third largest city in China and it’s been one of the worst affected by the coronavirus. If I’d gone back out there as planned then what would have happened to me? I was watching the news seeing all these Brits desperately trying to get home. It was like ‘wow, that could have been me’.”

Terry Butcher believes the football season should be concluded once the coronavirus crisis is over.

Terry Butcher believes the football season should be concluded once the coronavirus crisis is over. Photo: Sarah Lucy Brown - Credit: Archant

Butcher, 61, plans to report to Playford Road as usual this week to work in his role as an academy coach. The Blues’ first team players may be off until next Thursday, but scholars are still coming in on a reduced timetable.

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