Published: 15:00, 24 October 2020
| Updated: 10:58, 25 October 2020
Gillingham manager Steve Evans has hit out at the Football League after he felt his team and staff were put at risk of exposure to Covid-19.
Visitors Fleetwood Town - who won the match 2-0 - played Accrington Stanley on Tuesday night, a team who subsequently had eight players test positive for coronavirus. Accrington’s weekend game was called off but Fleetwood travelled to Kent without having any tests.
There was debate about the match taking place as late as Saturday morning as Gillingham feared they could be taking on a team with players who had picked up the virus.
Evans felt the EFL had let them down.
He said: “They have really put all the players and staff at this football club under enormous pressure, leading into the game.
“You cannot, as a Football League board, allow Accrington Stanley to have a minimum of nine or 10 positive cases and send Fleetwood, from a tier three area without a test, to come to the county of Kent and put people in hotels at risk, and everyone on that pitch at risk.
“That is why the benches were separated (both benches were moved further apart and Fleetwood were put in makeshift changing facilities on the opposite side of the ground to Gillingham), because I insisted on it.
“Everyone was at risk in the stadium because in my opinion and the professional medical opinion of the club, there would have been Covid off that team bus, or a probability of it. That is a real problem for the Football League.”
Discussions were ongoing up until Saturday morning over whether the game would take place.
Evans said: “I heard a comment from a Football League board director that money is more important than illness and people getting Covid and I will name him.
"If he doesn’t come out and defend himself on Sunday or Monday, then I will name him. He said money in this competition is more important than the wellbeing of every person in the football club.
“It is neglect of duty from the EFL. It’s just a shambles, it really is. I hope I am not coughing and spluttering on Monday because I am probably the person in the ground with the biggest problem.
"I am nearly 60 and overweight, but one of the reasons (it was played) was because Fleetwood’s players are not showing any symptoms. Do they know what covid is?
“It could take 10 or 12 days to nest in your body but you would still test positive. They have no symptoms? Do me a favour. What does being on the board of the EFL mean? It means you have to act responsibly to the clubs. Have they acted responsibly for us, a club that is also from a tier three area to play one in tier one?”
While the EFL came in for criticism, Evans felt Fleetwood Town Football Club themselves could have handled it better.
“I think Joey has a responsibility,” said the Gills boss. “I would have come into the club on Thursday and I would have gone to our chairman and asked for all the staff to be tested, because there is a big cost to it now.
“I hear all this nonsense that we are different to the rest of the nation, we are elite but why are we elite? (Football clubs from National League South and North upwards are deemed elite level).
"We don’t get tested any more. We haven’t been tested, other than individually when they’ve got symptoms, since before the first day of the season and that is a neglect of duty from the Football League. Then to hear someone say, ‘yes, I think money is more important,’ really? He better name himself.”
Lancashire is in tier three Covid restrictions, which means travel in and out should only happen if necessary but elite sport is deemed okay.
But Evans said: “I chatted with the match referee, he was aware of it all, I said what ‘if your wife booked you three days on holiday in Blackpool next week, would you go? His reply, ‘not a chance.’ Where do Fleetwood play? Blackpool.”
Should tier three clubs even be playing at all? Evans believes testing would be key but nobody has come forward to offer to pay for it, including the PFA, the body representing the players and their welfare.
Evans said: “The PFA have done nothing have they? What have they done? All they did was advise players not to take a 20% cut back in the summer.
“You cannot tell me the Football League watches the events of Accrington and doesn’t ask Fleetwood to test, it is irresponsible.
“My understanding is you can go from tier three to one because you are an elite sports person but what makes us elite? We don’t get tested.
“As a citizen of someone who lives in Blackpool, you couldn’t come to Kent to see your Aunty. You can’t go 3 to 1 but we are elite sportsmen and we don’t get tested. Really?
“Who is responsible for not testing the players when you have had what’s happened at Accrington? Fleetwood? Yes, the Football League, most certainly.
“It’s not taking away the result, I take that on the chin and we go again to Ipswich (on Tuesday night), but our preparation was that there won’t be a game, there were families welfares at stake, including everyone in the stadium.
“People had no respect for Kent today. What about the team staying at the hotel, last night. If I had one of my daughters working there and I had known they had come from where they had then I might be asking her to get a private test.
“I would say that if there are any Fleetwood players who test positive in the next three or four days then people on the Football League board should resign, shouldn't they? Immediately.”
The Gills are back in action at Ipswich on Tuesday and must now decide on whether they think they should be having their own squad tested.
“I don’t know if we can afford to,” Evans said. “But that’s our chairman’s decision. We would ask him to look at it.”
Read more on the Gills;