When it comes to the action played out on the Champions League stage, finding nuance is a relatively simple process: a feint here; a no-look pass there; a nutmeg from nowhere. Off the pitch, some might argue that it’s harder to pin down – but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Because the truth is that football clubs across Europe, for all their grand plans and global glamour, also play a key role in their local communities. And the work that they do, often behind the scenes and without fanfare, provides reassurance that football’s soul remains intact.
The advent of Covid-19 has seen a multitude of clubs going the extra mile in a time of crisis. Valencia, for example, have given thought to the mental implications of lockdown by putting together a weekly series of online tips from a club psychologist. Then there’s Atalanta, who helped to buy equipment for a temporary field hospital inside Bergamo’s conference centre (with numerous supporters on site to help put the facility together). And Barcelona are, for the first time, selling the naming rights to Camp Nou; all proceeds from the season-long sponsorship will go towards fighting coronavirus.
Liverpool have also been doing their bit. “We’ve picked three areas to focus on: providing food, helping those in self-isolation and supporting the NHS and key workers,” says Forbes Duff, club social responsibility manager. He heads up Red Neighbours, a community programme aimed specifically at those who live in the Anfield area surrounding the stadium. His team are collaborating with LFC Foundation, the club’s official charity, in order to cover as much ground as possible; in all there are about 50 people involved.
“We’re supporting food banks financially and practically,” says Duff. “We also provide 1,000 meals per week to around 25 community groups, and we’ve been delivering breakfast-club packs to the schools and hubs that we work with.” A service called LFC Connect sees Duff’s colleagues “check in and have a friendly chat” with vulnerable members of the community in self-isolation. “We also have first-team players making special phone calls to some of our participants,” he adds.
Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp and his team have played their part in the LFC Connect initiative
And let’s not forget “cookies for kindness”. “Each Friday we’ve been delivering a box of cookies to every single pharmacy on Merseyside – there are about 600 of them,” says Duff. “Just as a thank you.” There have also been copies of Champions Journal going into food packs for children from a local high school, as well as to the volunteers who attend the food banks every day.
Tottenham Hotspur is another club that has been helping care providers – and as stadium director Jon Babbs explains, it’s been made possible by their recent move to a brand new stadium. “It is designed as a multi-purpose venue, which has provided us with greater flexibility to offer our facilities to both the NHS and Haringey Council,” he says. “The food distribution hub would certainly not have been possible at White Hart Lane. And we have been able to make use of the majority of our in-house medical facilities, in addition to converting areas such as dressing rooms, warm-up areas and our media café.”
Babbs is particularly proud of the efforts of staff at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, with even coach José Mourinho (top) getting involved. “All members of the stadium-management team played a part in the set-up, alongside colleagues from across the club,” he says. “The IT department spent many hours working with the NHS in preparation for their arrival, as did the logistics, presentation, maintenance and security teams.”
Liverpool’s Duff credits a similar team effort. “It has been a challenge but we’ve risen to it; we’re doing as much as we can,” he says. “I’d say community is as vital as anything now. As a football club we have an even greater responsibility, but I also mean the communities that everyone is living in. So if that’s your road, your cul-de-sac, your terrace, your tenement block, your estate, everyone has to look out for each other.”