Fans have been left shocked at what happened on a previous bus journey the Sunderland team took for one of their matches.
The League One club have seen five of their senior squad members return positive tests this week, causing the closure of the training ground and postponement of their next three fixtures.
Now it’s claimed that one of their bus journies is among the suspected causes of Sunderland’s coronavirus outbreak, with an external employee on board one of those who have tested positive.
Sources have told Sportsmail that a recent coach trip is the likely source of the spread. There are also questions being asked as to why an external employee on the bus came into close contact with Sunderland’s players.
EFL protocols remain when any team travels on coaches, with requirements such as the need to wear face masks and maintain social distancing. The authorities believe that, if these protocols are adhered to, the spread of the virus should be kept to a minimum.
On Sunday, a senior player displayed symptoms of Covid-19 and later tested positive, as did the external employee. Seven other individuals were put into self-isolation before another four positive tests were confirmed on Wednesday.
However, the Black Cats still took the decision to play Tuesday night’s home game against AFC Wimbledon.
The club say they tried and failed to gain clarity from the EFL over what sanctions they would face should they postpone the fixture.
The EFL said that Sunderland could have called the game off, but that they would then investigate the circumstances, as is standard practice. The club decided to play despite the risk of Covid-19 being present among their squad.
Sunderland boss Lee Johnson thought that Tuesday night’s League One game against AFC Wimbledon should have been called off.
The fixture ended up finishing 1-1, but Johnson reckons that it shouldn’t have gone ahead.
Sunderland were without eight first-team players for the match at the Stadium of Light, and on Wednesday it was confirmed that they are unable to play their next three games.
One senior Black Cats player returned a positive test for coronavirus after showing symptoms on Sunday and was isolating at home.
Seven other players from the first team have also had to self-isolating with two displaying symptoms – after coming into close contact with the individual who tested positive.
Sunderland requested a postponement and engaged in extensive dialogue with the EFL, but have claimed there was a lack of clarity surrounding potential sanctions.
Johnson said after the match: “That game should have been called off, no doubt in my mind.
🗣️ Lee Johnson reviews an eventful day on Wearside, including tonight’s 1-1 draw.
Full interview… 📺👇 pic.twitter.com/pRFXIWihRB
— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) December 15, 2020
“That was dangerous for those two sets of players, those who had injuries, the (U)23s played yesterday.
“The team was changing by the hour, in terms of being told I can’t do that or this.
“I can’t help but feel angry, frustrated. At the moment I am not sure who I am angry at. I had to control the controllables, that was all I could do. We didn’t get any help with clarity.
“Bristol Rovers have cancelled a game today in very similar circumstances, but the threat of retribution was the bit that is very unclear. It was difficult to make a decision based on safety. I feel let down.
“The amount of games in football I have had as a player, a manager, a head coach, it is all unprecedented what is going on.
“Other clubs will have to deal with it.
“I am not playing the victim, we played tonight, played hard, no lack of effort.”
In response, the EFL say that the decision whether to postpone the game, which would have led to the circumstances being investigated, as with all league clubs, ultimately rested with the club.
An EFL spokesperson said: “That decision rested with the club as only they can make the determination on whether they had sufficient players available from their squad to fulfil the fixture.”
Johnson was left to praise the players who were able to line up for the Black Cats.
He said: “Mainly, I was so proud. With the players putting themselves above the parapet, at least I know what it means to these guys.
“Jordan Willis, Lynden Gooch, Aiden O’Brien shouldn’t have been near the team because they have been recovering from injuries.
“They performed very well.”
Sunderland chief executive James Rodwell said: “It is with a heavy heart that I have informed the EFL that we are unable to play our next three league fixtures.
“The welfare of our players, staff and opponents remains the number one priority and following detailed conversations with the relevant authorities, we have also taken the responsible decision to close the Academy of Light for a 10-day period.
“On behalf of everyone at the club, I wish all of those affected a swift and complete recovery.”
The EFL will investigate that all protocols have been carried out properly before permitting the matches to be played at a later date.
Stephen Taylor Heath, a leading sports lawyer, suggests Sunderland would have had nothing to fear in postponing Tuesday’s game if protocols had been followed.
The Head of Sports Law at JMW Solicitors, said: ‘Newcastle United announced recently that, despite following the protocols, an outbreak had occurred and they postponed a game without sanction. The Newcastle case demonstrates that clubs will not necessarily face sanction if games are postponed if the protocols have been followed.
‘The EFL reference to an investigation at Sunderland was presumably to an enquiry as to whether the protocols had been followed. The club decided not to postpone and submit to an investigation but play the game instead.
‘If the Public Health England advice is to shut operations down, then the question will be whether the outbreak has been exacerbated by the decision to play the game, rather than face an investigation.’
As mentioned, fans were left shocked at what happened on the Sunderland bus journey…
Ed Williams: what happened on that Sunderland bus journey should be a reminder to every club, sounds like they weren’t doing as they were told?
Ollie Thwaite: That’s us getting punished by the EFL then
Paul Bailey: Jesus christ, that’s us in trouble
Ricky Clarke: What a laughing stock we are.
Lee Arnold: This doesn’t sound good
Jason Dix: No wonder fans have been left shocked at what happened on that Sunderland bus journey
Sunderland in breach of Covid protocol by using contracted out drivers? Donald trying to save money? Club could be in serious trouble if story is true. https://t.co/pVFcQkP8VY
— John C (Music better than Politics) (@JohnC2063) December 17, 2020
We can’t even use park the bus tactics without something going wrong. https://t.co/A4vdJ4EqGJ
— SAFC Dolphins (@sportmad72) December 17, 2020
— Adam Ryan (@AdamRyan8) December 17, 2020
What’s an external employee? https://t.co/vPPaFm7ihZ
— Gash (@GashB76) December 17, 2020
One claimed to be in breach of Covid protocols. Very serious accusation, especially if club was doing just to save money and putting players at risk.
— John C (Music better than Politics) (@JohnC2063) December 17, 2020
Sounds like we may lose these games then as we didn’t follow the rules fully
— Brett Redmayne (@brettd1981) December 17, 2020
— ToonArmyMad (@toontoonarmymad) December 17, 2020