While West Ham’s Rush Green training ground is open for business once again after a six-week lockdown, it’s not exactly business as usual on the outskirts of Dagenham. A question will be posed by many over the re-opening of training grounds as the Hammers along with Spurs, Arsenal and Brighton have done so, with other teams expected to follow suit imminently. Why, when the rest of the country is on lockdown, are footballers allowed to essentially return to their place of work? Most players who have bought homes live east of the training ground in Essex, while the newer arrivals and others more central of the capital to the west of Rush Green. Canary Wharf, where a lot of players are based, is an 11-mile drive away. On a usual day that will take about an hour with but on lockdown, it’s about half that.
The players aren’t breaking any lockdown rules though the “exercise locally” moniker is being somewhat pushed to its boundaries. West Ham said in a statement earlier this week that those who live “in apartments or without safe access to green spaces” are allowed to go to the training ground and that will encompass most who live to the west the training ground. It’s a much safer bet than going for a jog around Hackney Marshes.
Midfielder Pablo Fornals said “I was going to the park to run individually every day, doing my exercise, and then parks, which once were empty, became full of people. I think this isn’t good for people; we need to be human and respect each other, because that’s the way we will get through this time.”
Fornals will be one of those expected to use Rush Green imminently, alongside the likes of Andriy Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson – if they choose to, of course. Those, like others, will head to the training ground alonf the A124 before turning off. You are confronted by the security hut that looms over the entrance to the training ground. Usually that is staffed by four or sometimes five security guards but as players have turned up over the past few days, just one guard will be there. Once the players have gone through the automatic barrier they will park in the car park, which on a usual training day is crammed full of Range Rovers, Lamborghini’s and Bentley’s all pretty much the same shade of black or silver, apart from Aaron Cresswell outlandish blue Range. In fact, the car park is actually a bit too small so you do often see some cars parked parallel in spaces but then blocked in by those late arrivals. But not now. With social distancing measures in very strict force at Rush Green, only one player is allowed in at a time so they will have full use of the 29-acre site for the one hour they are allowed to be there. They will have the car park all to themselves.
Enforcing the two-metre rule isn’t hard at Rush Green. There are six pitches, all measured to the same dimensions at London Stadium’s vast green expanse, from which the player training can choose to work on but the inside areas like the gym and main complex building are strictly off limits. No use of the treatment rooms, hydrotherapy pools or saunas is allowed. There are usually around ten to 15 full time staff on site at Rush Green, which shoots up to around 50 when the players, management and coaches are there. In these Covid-19 times, there is likely to be far, far less than that though the exact number isn’t known. One of those will be the player themselves and Manuel Lanzini is believed to have been one of the first to return. He has been followed by Angelo Ogbonna, Sebastien Haller and Tomas Soucek, who have all been at the training ground in the past 24 hours having booked their allotted time. They will have had bring a football and other equipment and kit, towels, water bottles, the lot. Most of that kit will have been sent to the player when the lockdown was first introduced around six weeks ago for them to use at their home. It’s straight in and straight out in these times as well, no shower after training. Get back in your car and head home.
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