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I've put Crusaders in lockdown to reduce coronavirus risk, says boss Baxter



Shuttered: Crusaders’ Seaview stadium stands empty on Saturday

Shuttered: Crusaders’ Seaview stadium stands empty on Saturday

Stephen Baxter

Stephen Baxter

�INPHO/Stephen Hamilton

Shuttered: Crusaders’ Seaview stadium stands empty on Saturday

Manager Stephen Baxter admits when Crusaders decided to go full-time back in February 2018, he didn't consider the possibility of a worldwide epidemic putting sport globally on hold.

The Irish Football Association last week fell into line with the rest of the United Kingdom by closing its doors until April 4 at least, suspending all domestic football in Northern Ireland in a bid to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

It threatens to have a detrimental impact on the Irish League with many clubs now facing severe financial difficulties - particularly those, like Crusaders, who have adapted a full-time strategy. Wages and bills must be paid with no money coming in at the gate.

But Baxter has still moved swiftly to put his club into lockdown for a week at least, simply because people's health and welfare is paramount.

"In a scenario like this, you have to take a deep breath and look to the experts for advice," he said.

"We really are in the dark about this particular situation."

Baxter added: “In times like this, we must take the best advice from the people running the country and from the top medical people.

“We decided to take a week off — simply close down the club. Everything was happening very much at a pace.

“As the week was progressing, things were changing rapidly, literally day to day and then hour to hour.

“We were preparing for a big game with Glentoran and, then suddenly, it all stopped.”

Baxter reckons the IFA and NIFL acted in the proper manner by issuing a blanket ban.

He added: “Once England and Scotland took the decision to shut down, we did the right thing by following them.

“It’s quite frightening watching the sporting world tumble to this virus. When something as big as this strikes, it’s time to let the experts lead the way and take the advice they are giving.

“It’s important for everyone to follow their instruction. It’s a situation that we have no real handle on or have no experience of. It is something that is fast moving but, by the same token, we’ve got to stay very close together on this. It’s very much a watching brief.

“We are off for a week and then we’ll make a decision after that if and when we return to training to work towards our game on April 4.

“Of course, there is no guarantee that we’ll be even back by that date.”

Baxter will consult medical experts before he orders his boys back to training.

“Some of our players and staff were anxious about their elderly parents,” he added.

“It’s vital that we look after the elderly and the people vulnerable to this outbreak. I think it’s important to collate all the information.  By the same token, it could all be taken out of our hands.

“If this pandemic doesn’t slow down and gets worse as opposed to getting better, then we must re-evaluate everything to see where we go from here.

“It’s something that none of us were prepared for — no one saw it coming. That’s why we desperately need the information globally from our world leaders, our experts, doctors, scientists and politicians.

“They need to make decisions, it’s a day to day process.

“But I’m one of these people with an optimistic take on it. If you crash the car, you can’t rewind the tape. Fix the problem and get on with it.

“Once a problem arises, you find a solution to fix it. Keep a calm head, talk to the experts, find a solution and move forward. I’m glad we are all doing that in a sensible way.

“China went into serious lockdown and they now appear to be coming out of it. Let’s hope there’ll be a better picture for us in four weeks’ time.”

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