How do you maintain a club’s mantra of “Together” during the coronavirus crisis when players and staff cannot be near each other?
If you are Brighton and Hove Albion, you adapt. You keep up the group sessions from home, using spin bikes, apps and conference calling.
You also ensure the club continues to be a focal point for the local community by involving head coach Graham Potter, his staff and the players, as well as chairman Tony Bloom and chief executive Paul Barber, in a phone network project to check in on the elderly and vulnerable.
Bespoke training programmes for the men’s and women’s first-team squads have been arranged by technical director Dan Ashworth in conjunction with the respective head coaches — Potter and Hope Powell — and the club’s sports scientists.
Players without a spin bike at home have been given one by the club. They log into an app to take part in a group session.
Although the phrase “self-isolation” has become omnipresent during the coronavirus shutdown, Brighton are making sure the players do not feel deserted. One player tells The Athletic, “We’ve all been sent stuff from the club. Some of the lads have got full home gyms, but I’ve never been massively into it.
“I’ve got bits and pieces, but the club has been good in sorting out a lot of what we haven’t got. We’ve been doing conference calls and circuit sessions. Everyone has been involved, keeping everyone together. It’s especially important for the lads that are not from this country and haven’t got family here. It’s going to be a lonely time for them.”
It has not been as lonely as it might have been for winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh when he celebrated Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, which is observed on or around March 21. Jahanbakhsh spent it in his high-rise apartment, accompanied by his parents.
They flew to England before the virus pandemic. They should have been back in Iran by now. Instead, Jahanbakhsh’s father has been acting as a helper when his son trains.
Defender Bernardo, meanwhile, makes daily calls home to his parents in Brazil. Mum Irene and dad Bernardo Snr live in Sao Paulo, the city hardest hit in Brazil by coronavirus. They paid for tests which, to Bernardo’s relief, were negative.
Brighton celebrates its diversity as a city. The club’s squads reflect that diversity, so everyone has different needs and requires different levels of support. The men’s squad, for example, has players from Australia, Brazil and Mali.
The players range in age from 36-year-old Glenn Murray to Tariq Lamptey, who is only 19. They have played for the club for as long as 10 years (captain Lewis Dunk) to as little as 10 minutes (Argentine midfielder Alexis Mac Allister).
Some are married with young children and have family homes. Others are single, living in flats and apartments. All of these are factors in where and how they live their lives and the practicalities of organising training routines.
Players are better equipped to cope with the demands of home training and healthy eating than days gone by. A player’s representative tells The Athletic: “I think it’s different now. You know you have to be disciplined. The hard bit is nobody knows when they are going to be back. It’s crazy, strange times.”
Brighton were quick to respond to the crisis. They were the first club to announce match-day staff would be paid for the rest of the season after the home game against Arsenal, scheduled for March 14, was postponed.
Food for hospitality lounges and retail kiosks for that fixture was donated to a local charity serving the homeless. A skeleton staff is still operating at the Amex Stadium and Lancing training complex for essentials such as maintenance of pitches, season ticket renewals and supporter services. Season ticket holders have been offered a three-month payment holiday on direct debits from May to July, which will cost the club around £3 million in cash flow.
The club are also setting up virtual press conferences via video app Zoom, with chief executive Barber addressing the media every Tuesday and Potter taking the duties on Thursdays.
From Thursday, a number of players and staff, including Barber, Potter and Bloom, will start checking in on elderly and vulnerable supporters by phone. They will have access to lists of fans in their immediate geographical area aged over 70 and in self-isolation.
The aim is to assist with their needs, particularly those without family, friends or neighbours nearby, and to spend time talking to them. Barber says: “We are a community club and it’s a small but practical thing we can do to support people.”
Club merchandise, such as replica kits and autographed photos, remain popular as gifts, especially for children. Brighton offered free delivery worldwide on all online orders as soon as the club’s two shops at the Amex and in the centre of the city were shut.
They have been working with delivery providers so that parcels can be signed on behalf of the customer by the driver to avoid contact with courier pads.
“Together” remains a core theme for Brighton, for as long as coronavirus lasts.