Rovers boss Tony Mowbray says the COVID-19 tests that were carried out at the club’s Academy yesterday is a clear step in the right direction on the road back to playing football.
A total of 27 players and 17 staff were tested for the virus which caused the suspension of the 2019-20 season exactly 10 weeks ago.
All those with negative results will return to the training ground on Monday, to resume training in small groups of five.
The Rovers manager was eager to praise the staff behind the scenes, whose efforts to ensure a staff environment for the players’ return have not gone unnoticed, and he is looking forward to seeing the squad back on the grass.
“First and foremost, there’s been a lot of work put in by a lot of people to get to this point,” said Mowbray.
“Just to make sure that the players and the staff feel safe when they get their boots on and get back on the grass.
“It’s important that the players feel secure and that everything has been done to make sure that we’re not taking any chances.
“Of course, at any time, someone could put a big pin in the bubble of what’s happening. There could be a spike or an outbreak that puts an end to it, but at this moment we’re on a road back to playing football.
“These are the first steps. If everything’s fine, all the people with negative tests will start on Monday. We’ll be testing twice a week on the back of that and the process will have begun.
“We’ll hopefully try to get to stage two pretty quickly, into some sort of contact, and then stage three will be playing football matches.
“That’s the plan and let’s hope it runs smoothly.”
The manager revealed that if any player, who had young children or at-risk relatives in their family, had concerns about resuming training then their situation would be dealt with sympathetically, however he was pleased to report that everyone in the group was raring to return.
“Obviously they want to get back,” added the Rovers boss.
“They’re footballers and they’ve been missing the interaction with their team-mates. The banter every day of arriving at the training ground. And just kicking balls.
“As I’ve said to my players, if you’ve got any doubts, you’ve got my number, you’ve got to phone me. Sometimes, when you’re talking to 25 players in a group, it’s very difficult for one individual to speak up.
“So if they’ve got any concerns, they should let me know and we’ll listen to them with full understanding. I’m a family man myself, with three boys, and families have to come first.
“Footballers are young, they’re fit, they’re athletic, they’re strong, but if they’ve got vulnerable families or people who they’re concerned about, then they should air those views and we’ll listen very sympathetically.
“But I think everybody is raring to get back. Nobody from our group has said that they’ve got concerns about coming back and we’re all looking forward to kicking that ball again.
“The first week or so will be social distancing, so I’ve been working with my coaches all morning putting together sessions and what we’re going to do and how we’re going to keep the players apart in groups of five, but we’re looking forward to it.”
With nine Championship fixtures remaining and Rovers sitting just three points outside the play-off places, Mowbray hopes the team can hit the ground running and make it an exciting end to the season.
“It feels a little bit like pre-season,” he added. “How these nine games will unfold we’ll wait and see, but from our perspective we just hope that we can hit the ground running, win some matches, have some confidence, get on a roll and see where it takes us.
“This is the business end of the season, where things can happen. Teams can feel the pressure or teams can grab the momentum and roll with it, and keep winning football matches. It’s exciting, so let’s see how it goes.”