How distributing PPE has helped me and other football fans through the uncertainty of coronavirus

I am a football podcast producer that has been furloughed due to the financial impact of coronavirus.

The absence of the game has seen my day-to-day routine vanish as a large chunk of my life revolves it.

Throughout this pandemic I, like countless others, have found myself struggling with anxiety, mainly due to all the uncertainty.

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Without the escape, emotional attachment and enjoyment of football and minus the chance to do my job as a result, I’ve felt lost. I felt like I was of no use to anybody.

I imagine many supporters across the country have felt a similar sense of emptiness since football was put on hold back in March. I don’t think we anticipated just how big a role football plays in people’s lives, and how much of a hole it leaves when it isn’t there.

One of the things that I love the most about the game is how people you barely know, and only see once a fortnight, somehow become part of your existence. The sense of togetherness and camaraderie it brings is hard to replace, especially when you’ve been starved of human contact as we have been over the last 12 weeks.

To be a fan is to be part of something much bigger, a wider community.

One of the great parts of my job is that it enables me to give a voice to people who perhaps wouldn’t usually be heard. I pride myself on this. But being furloughed, that ability was taken away. Rightly or wrongly, I felt a sense of guilt that I wasn’t doing anything to help anyone. I felt I needed to do something.

And so, four weeks ago, I started volunteering at Merseyside PPE Hub, helping to create free scrubs and personal protective equipment for frontline workers across the North West.

I was blown away by what I found. At the hub, which is based at South Liverpool secondary school Studio @ Deyes, a team of 10 volunteers work eight-hour shifts, five days a week, all to ensure our key workers are kept safe. Most of the volunteers are teachers, who have put their design and technology skills to good use.

Over 40,000 visors have been made to date, and with the help of the brilliant Fans Supporting Foodbanks organisation, we have been distributing them from the Merseyside base to fan groups across the country.

One recent trip saw a delivery of over 5,000 pieces of equipment to supporters of Newcastle, Manchester United, Manchester City, West Ham and Huddersfield.

The final stop on that trip was the Etihad Stadium, and two weeks ago we organised “Laps For Lives”, a fundraiser centred around the idea of solidarity among football fans.

Fifty-eight participants, including ex-footballers, ran around a makeshift track in the Hub’s car-park in Wavertree. The aim was to cover the distance it would take to run to the Etihad and back – 67 miles in just 12 hours.

Nick Clarke from Manchester City Fans Foodbanks Support was one of the runners who took part on the day.

“It was brilliant,” he said. “Meeting a load of people that I’ve not met before, the support and encouragement given to me while I was doing the run, it shows what the whole thing is about. It’s about looking out for other people.

“It was to show thanks, respect, gratitude and solidarity to the Fans Supporting Foodbanks movement from our end.”

Nick was among those who helped distribute 2000 visors, delivered by Merseyside PPE last month, to carers across Manchester.

“We wanted to show that we’re still in each other’s minds and looking out for our communities,” he added.

“Liverpool FC made a massive donation and then we followed on from that and joined up with the good guys at MUFC foodbank to release a joint letter, which was then followed by a £100,000 donation from City and United to foodbanks across Greater Manchester, which is brilliant.

“It just shows that we can do so much more together than we can alone. It gives a bit of hope to everyone, and hopefully there is going to be a lot more that we can do going ahead.”

Former Liverpool defender and Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher was involved in Laps for Lives along with ex-players John Aldridge, Sue Smith, Stephen Warnock and Neil Mellor.

David Price, the former British champion boxer, also took part, while comedian Johnny Vegas, a devoted supporter of the hub, kicked proceedings off.

“It’s a privilege to be asked,” Warnock said. “When you realise what local people are trying to achieve for people on the frontline, for local businesses who are trying their best to bring a community together, you want to get involved.

“I wouldn’t have slept at night if I didn’t agree to do stuff like this!”

Headteacher John Parry is one of the founders of the Merseyside PPE hub, and a lifelong Liverpool supporter.

“This was a great opportunity to bring football fans together, whatever their colours,” he said. “The camaraderie of the football fans has been amazing in terms of raising money, and this was further proven by the solidarity tour, where we met with fans from across the north to deliver PPE equipment.

“Laps for Lives was the icing on the cake. It doesn’t matter what colour you usually support, it was about the runners and the money they helped raise.

“Despite the lack of football, these hard times have united us together to help ensure our frontline workers are safe.”

The event raised over £20,000 in total with West Ham’s co-owner David Sullivan donating £1,500 to help the production of PPE.

This was in gratitude for the hub delivering 1,000 visors to Irons Supporting Foodbanks.

The Premier League is due to return on June 17, which is another step towards slowly returning to normality for everyone.

This experience has taught me that football’s impact goes far deeper than what happens on the pitch, and that even during a time of global crisis, it can provide a sense of comfort, togetherness and purpose.

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