‘I’ve great faith in football players… most are good souls who will step up and help’: Gary Neville insists he believes in stars as he urges everyone to face up to ‘horrific’ reality of coronavirus after vacating hotel chain for NHS staff
- Gary Neville is one of many football stars doing their bit in the covid-19 crisis
- Neville has vacated his chain of plush hotels in order for NHS staff to use
- After speaking to business partner Peter Lim, he realised how bad things are
- Neville feels ‘footballers will want to do something special’ to help the cause
- Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?
Gary Neville already has some personal, human stories to share and he knows there will be more.
The former Manchester United and England defender has given the two hotels he owns with Ryan Giggs and former Old Trafford team-mates over to the NHS to use for staff during the epidemic.
Some 35 bedrooms are occupied and the sacrifices being made are very real.
Gary Neville is doing his bit to fight the covid-19 crisis, and feels football has a big part to play
‘I think we will be at 100 per cent occupancy by Thursday this week,’ Neville told Sportsmail on Monday night.
‘That is 176 beds. There are families making decisions that are not easy. Some of the stories we are hearing from staff are not great.
‘There is a single mother who works at the Royal Manchester Infirmary with two children who has left them at home with her father while she stays in one of our rooms. Her father is a doctor too but she works in critical care and they decided between them that she is more important to the country than he is.
‘She will be with us for 14 days. He is at home with the children and is isolating. The decisions the NHS and the staff are making are involving great sacrifices and I hope people appreciate that.’
Neville, his brother Phil and former United team-mates Giggs, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes employ around 450 staff across their expanding business. All were sent home a week and a half ago.
Neville had word of the danger of coronavirus from business partner Peter Lim in Singapore. He knows the economic threat to the business but, to the group, staff welfare comes first.
Now a business man, Neville has sent his staff force home will full pay during the
‘Peter was passing information to us saying that we had to be decisive to protect guests and staff and to make sure that economically we had planned,’ he said.
‘They have had the social distancing for a month over there and were passing intelligence saying it was coming our way and when it comes it is a shocker. When I first looked at the numbers a week last Friday with the lads and Peter, it was economically horrific.
‘However we know that over time companies and people will be judged by whether they did the right thing. There was not a thought at any point that we could not do this. We had to set the tone by releasing those rooms.
‘Some businesses started laying staff off last Monday and others were waiting for the Government support package to be announced. We just couldn’t wait. There will be a bloodbath out there economically but our principle is that people don’t work for us, they work with us. Our responsibility is to people and their families. You take that on when you start a business. It’s big.
‘One of the things we learned from our days at Old Trafford is that the team is more important than anything. We don’t believe we are above anyone else. We are all equal. Everybody deserves an opportunity. Nobody should be worse off because of their postcode. We understand our roots and where we came from.
‘The reality is that some wealthy people out there are thinking selfishly. But some are not.’
Neville and Giggs — at the forefront of the business — have been inundated by staff requests to volunteer to work at both hotels. Currently, they need a skeleton staff of between 15 and 20.
‘When we met with the NHS we analysed the risk and it’s twofold,’ Neville said. ‘The staff could contaminate the NHS staff and vice-versa. But we reached the conclusion that we can’t do anything about that.
Neville has vacated his hotels for NHS staff and soon expects every bed to be filled
‘The accommodation is simply needed. Our staff have masks, gloves and protective equipment and are social-distancing. We are over-subscribed in terms of people wanting to work and we will look at people doing five days on and five days off. They will rotate.
‘Our beds are the tip of the iceberg. They are going to need thousands once this starts to develop. The NHS are in discussions with other hotels.’
Neville has shown himself to be a driven, forward-thinking businessman since the end of his playing days in 2011. A former United captain, he still has faith in the workings of the sport. In calling on football to do its bit for the greater good, he was keen to underline his belief in the players who populate the Premier League and beyond.
‘Yeah, I have great faith in football players in terms of their souls,’ he said. ‘I really believe 99 per cent of them are really good human beings who will want to not only look after themselves but also the communities they are part of.
‘Most come from the kind of communities that find times like this the most challenging. I do believe players will step up in the next month. Some already have.
‘They won’t be selfish. They will want to do something special in the next few weeks, once they have worked out what it is. Sometimes the best help may be to social-distance and stay in their home. What can they do outside of that to bring value to the community to help people and the services cope with the challenges they face?’
Neville’s work on Sky Sports continues for now. This week he was due to present Monday Night Football with Jamie Carragher, analysing old games from the safety of their homes.
‘Some may say that some social distance from Carragher is no bad thing!’ Neville laughed.
In terms of the football season, Neville believes there should be no clamour to rush back. Many lives will be lost before another ball is kicked, that much we know.
‘This will be something quite horrific in the next few weeks and talking about when the season will start again is not today’s challenge,’ he said.
Neville jokes that social distancing from co-pundit Jamie Carragher is no bad thing
‘People will need hope and joy and happiness when they come out of the other side and I hope football can provide that.
‘But at the moment the two things that people need are protection around their health and their economic situation. There are families wondering how they are going to get through this.
‘Football is not that important at the moment but we shouldn’t lose sight of how important sport is generally in this country. It is the lifeblood of many people. The relief and hope and joy — that feeling of having the match to watch every weekend — keeps many people going. They have netball to play, or cricket, darts and snooker. All these things.
‘It’s a huge part of our lives and we should remember that when it comes back. We must never take it for granted again.’
For now — like millions — Neville is marooned at home, protecting his health and by consequence the wellbeing of others. Like everyone else, he will seek a way through, emotionally and physically.
Whoever you support, the so-called Class of ’92 are doing their bit and we now wait for others to follow. ‘I hope out of this there emerges a more social approach in this country,’ said Neville. ‘We live in a capitalist society and can’t change that. We are too far gone.
‘But I do believe that within that you can have a social conscience with everything that we do.
‘We have seen these last two weeks that there have been good and bad examples of the way you treat and look after people.
‘All we want to do is do it right.’
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