Colchester release four first-team regulars they had wanted to re-sign

Frank Nouble is one of four first-team regulars who will leave Colchester at the end of June
Image: Frank Nouble is one of four first-team regulars who will leave Colchester at the end of June

Colchester will release four first-team regulars they had wanted to re-sign due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Frank Nouble, Luke Prosser, Ryan Jackson and Brandon Comley will leave at the end of next month, with the club sixth in Sky Bet League Two.

Colchester chairman Robbie Cowling told the club's official website: "I just won't gamble with other people's livelihoods or with the club.

"It is for that reason that I have had to take the very difficult decision of not re-signing a number of players that under normally circumstances I would have been determined to re-sign.

    "I appreciate the decision will make the team less capable when the season does resume but it is very unlikely that we will be the only club to take such a step."

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      Cowling says other less established players will also be leaving when their contracts expire.

      "I'm not going to sugar coat how difficult things are for Colchester United," he added. "Things were not easy beforehand when the club relied on financial support from my other businesses.

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      "Obviously, things recently got much more difficult and not just for the club but also for my other businesses that normally support it.

      "I'm confident that Colchester United will get through this crisis, but we will do so because we are part of a football family that is pulling together.

      "The club has a proud record of always paying its players in full and on time. We achieve this because I will never sign a contract if I can't commit to fulfilling it."

      'Players will not risk their careers'

      The English Football League has been postponed since March 14, with no date set for a return.

      The race to finish the season is complicated with more than 1,000 players expected to be out of contract by the end of June, and Stevenage chairman Phil Wallace insists players will not risk their careers if the season goes beyond June 30.

        Stevenage are bottom of League Two and have just two contracted players for next season.

        He said: "All you can do is have an aim, we'd love to finish the season if we are able to in a safe manner. How we are going to do that is beyond me, given the timeframe with players out of contract.

        "On July 1, Stevenage have two contracted players. What is supposed to happen then?

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        Image: Stevenage chairman Phil Wallace says players will not risk their careers if the season goes beyond June 30

        "You have some people say 'surely they will play in July' - no they won't. Why would they risk their careers if they are not on contract?

        "If someone else is paying for it they can extend them for as long as they want, I'm not paying for it.

        "I will make the commercial decisions in the best interest of our football club commercial survival.

        "It's probably the best part of £250,000 you're talking about [to pay players for an extra two months]. You know how long I can feed doctors and nurses and the old people in my community with that?"

        The EFL and the Professional Footballers' Association have made a recommendation for players in Leagues One and Two to agree a wage deferral of up to 25 per cent for April as they try to ease the financial burden on clubs.

        Some have also questioned how clubs would fund themselves if there are no gate receipts during any return but Wallace is not concerned with finances yet.

        He said: "It's just money, I'm not being flippant. It's money and solvable. If you start giving coronavirus to someone and exposing players to it that's irresponsible.

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        "We keep talking about games behind closed doors but if social distancing is in place and it's unsafe to put people in a stadium how is it safe to put people on grass and have a contact sport?

        "Every club has players with asthma, players' wives with asthma, pregnant partners - some live with their mum and dad. If you are going to put people together in a contact sport you have to know no one has got coronavirus."

        Wallace also believes clubs are powerless to determine when they will return.

        "It's got nothing to do with our league position, events - in this case the virus - will make this decision," he said.

        "It won't be the EFL, it won't be the FA or the clubs, it'll be the virus and the state of play at the time.

        "Nobody knows, the question is impossible to answer. This will not be decided by people."

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