Mee on Premier League captains creating #PlayersTogether to help NHS during coronavirus crisis: ‘We want to do our bit’

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Ben Mee, the Burnley captain, paused for a moment and then explained, in simple terms, why 20 Premier League captains joined forces to create the #PlayersTogether campaign that will see players from English football’s biggest clubs donate a portion of their wages to help front-line workers during the coronavirus crisis.

“Ultimately, the vast majority of footballers are working-class lads with a social conscience,” Mee told ESPN. “We want to do our bit by doing what we can to recognise the contribution of people in the National Health Service (NHS) and other essential workers during tough times for everybody.”

Premier League footballers know the price on the ticket. Play for a big club, earn the kind of money most people can only dream of and, when criticism is dished out, be prepared to take it from all sides. During the coronavirus crisis, players throughout the Premier League, from Arsenal through to Wolverhampton Wanderers, have been bracketed together and singled out as needing to do more at a time when many members of the population have been forced to take pay cuts, defer their wages or accept being furloughed by employers as a result of the financial impact on the economy of society being forced into lockdown.

Talks between the Premier League and Professional Footballers’ Assocation (PFA) about a league-wide 30% pay deferral remain ongoing, and some clubs are taking their own steps by speaking to their players, but Hancock’s intervention prompted a wave of criticism towards the players, who were seen to be doing nothing.2

“Matt Hancock’s comments didn’t help,” Mee told ESPN. “But the players had already been talking between ourselves, at clubs and with mates from other teams, about what we could do as a group.

“Clubs and players do lots of charitable work in the community that goes unseen every week of the year, so it was inevitable that we would do something to help during this crisis because many of us have friends or family who are affected by what is happening. My brother works on the trains and is classed as an essential worker, so he is directly involved in the national effort, while I have cousins in the Fire Service.

It began with a WhatsApp conversation between Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson, Manchester United’s Harry Maguire and other England players, about how to do something as a collective. Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne, Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilicueta and Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel were also prominent as various groups of players connected with others before the group of captains joined forces to become #PlayersTogether.

“I had a call from Jordan, asking if I fancied getting together to discuss charitable donations,” Mee said. “The intention was for football to do something positive and we took it from there.

“Other players spoke and then the group came together. There is obviously rivalry within the Premier League and not all players know each other, but there is a respect between us all and, at times like this, there is no room for animosity. It is about pulling together.”