Anthony Taylor has become a NHS volunteer as he supports his family through the coronavirus pandemic and the Premier league referee has explained to Sky Sports News the reasons behind his decision.
In a wide-ranging interview, Taylor has spoken about:
- His sister's work as an NHS doctor
- The impact on his young offender's charity
- Coronavirus "a reality check" on football
- His training schedule at home
- Refereeing a top game behind closed doors
Taylor, a former prison officer, has registered his support after talking about the strain on the National Health Service with his sister Kate, a doctor.
"These are unique circumstances," he says. "With my sister being so involved on the front line, it's the very least that I could do, understanding what she's having to deal with and how she's also feeling when she comes away from work. The more of us that can offer a small amount of time to help alleviate any of that pressure only has to be a good thing.
"When the call went out, I registered and it's just a waiting game now for checks to be processed. It's mainly focusing around transporting medication and equipment from hospitals or delivering shopping to vulnerable people. There will be plenty of people that need help. The more people we can get involved, the better.
"I'm in touch with my sister every day. I get to hear first-hand, sometimes, of some real challenging situations [from] all the people working in the NHS, they do such an amazing job. Everybody should be really grateful and it's so important that people take the advice, stay at home and reduce social contact.
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"Anybody who works in the NHS is a special person, not only their skillset but the type of human beings they are, constantly wanting to help people. It's obviously a really challenging time at the moment. Hopefully, in the coming weeks, things will improve, and we will come through the other side."
Taylor's work at a charity, supporting young people to avoid a life of crime, has also been affected by the government's restrictions to stay at home.
"My wife still works in the prison service, so she is still working on a daily basis," he adds. "I'm still involved with a youth offending charity [Prison! Me! No Way!]. That's obviously been hit hard because the majority of the work we do is based in schools, trying to educate young people about the choices they make in life and the consequences of getting involved in crime.
"That's been a challenge for the charity. We had a very good trustee's meeting the other night and there's a nine-month plan in place to combat difficulties faced by charities."
'A reality check'
Taylor says football can help society recover from the spread of coronavirus, and praises the community work by players, clubs and fans.
"Events over recent weeks really highlight the need for people to have some social responsibility," he says. "In terms of helping each other and also looking out for your nearest and dearest. I think it certainly is a reality check. Football is a hugely popular sport across the world. Football needs to be used as a vehicle to try and help people as much as we can.
"It's really important that everybody pulls together and hopefully seeing as many people recover as possible. It's really positive to see what people can do to help those less fortunate. It's always nice to see how individuals, or organisations as a whole, really step up when needed to."
'Surreal' match behind closed doors
Taylor was referee for Paris Saint-Germain's win against Borussia Dortmund in the second leg of the Champions League round of 16 earlier this month.
He has no preference over whether games should resume behind closed doors but believes it does not affect the intensity of a game.
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"I had the surreal experience of officiating the game a couple of weeks ago with no spectators [March 11]," he says. "Decisions like that are for authorities to make. The players will also tell you that playing matches behind closed doors is a very, very different experience.
"But it doesn't really have an effect on the actual intensity of the game between the players. Obviously, the players are still wanting to win, there are still important points, or qualification, at risk. I have no personal preference. Of course, you like the atmosphere in a stadium, but decisions of whether games are played behind closed doors are well out of player's, and official's, hands."
How referees are keeping in touch
Taylor keeps in regular contact with other top officials, including a weekly conference call, as they complete training schedules in their gardens.
"We've got comprehensive training plans from our sports science team," he adds. "We concentrate on high intensity speed work and focus on the injury prevention and strength work.
"My dog's delighted that he's getting extra time out, first thing in the morning, for a longer run! We can spend a bit of extra time based in the garden at home, working on those strength exercises just to injury-proof the body for when we do start.
"We have a weekly Skype call with the whole group. We're focusing on the technical aspects and discussing performances. We're just really trying to stay on top of it and stay alert, ready to hit the ground running again. We're a very close-knit group, all 17 referees. WhatsApps and messages are keeping morale high."
Will football return on April 30?
English football hopes the game will return by April 30 but, given the rapid rise in coronavirus deaths in the UK, it is considered highly likely the date will be further delayed.
"Everybody's health is far more important than the games and, indeed, confirming a start date," he says. "We need to focus on keeping people safe, following the advice on staying at home and the social distancing. The longer that advice is ignored, it will obviously delay things starting up again.
"It's also important, once we get that clarity, that everybody involved has the opportunity to get back to match fitness and make sure that we're not increasing the risk of people getting injured in such a short space of time."
Euro 2020 postponement
Taylor is one of two referees in England under consideration for the European Championship, which has been postponed until June 2021.
"In England, we have two of us that are in the elite group for UEFA - myself and Michael Oliver," he says. "Of course, our two teams were working towards trying to be selected for that tournament.
"Unfortunately, due to the current circumstances, the announcement for selection has obviously been delayed by a number of months.
"At this moment in time football has to take a back seat. In the coming months, once they decide when we start playing again, when the play-off matches will be, once all of that is sorted then we should hear about which referees have been selected for the tournament."
In a lighter moment, Taylor was asked whether he missed Video Assistant Referees [VARs] after their much-debated introduction in the Premier League this season.
"VAR is going to be an important part of the game moving forward isn't it," he smiles. "Let's not forget that it's there to try and help us get as many different decisions correct as possible, which is always a good thing from our point of view.
"I think we just need to keep things in perspective a little bit at the moment and worry about VAR when the games start up again!"