Hartlepool manager Dave Challinor revealed he asked his squad if any of them were not comfortable playing their Vanarama National League match at Sutton amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
With the Premier League and English Football League suspended until April 3, the National League was one of the only divisions in the country to allow football to continue this weekend.
By the time Sutton and Hartlepool kicked off, only six of the 12 scheduled fixtures in the top flight of non-league had survived and the pair played out a 1-1 draw at Gander Green Lane in front of 2,126 spectators.
— Hartlepool United FC (@Official_HUFC) March 14, 2020
“We opened it up to the players and quite openly told them if anyone is uncomfortable playing then come and say and if they had come to me, it would have been an easy one,” Challinor said.
“It would have been a problem if we had 10 because then we’re struggling for a team, but everyone will have a different opinion. I suppose I am not knowledgeable enough about the decision to go and say ‘this is right’, ‘that is right’.
“Everyone will speculate and there are bigger things, but from our perspective footballers are quite simply animals and want the decision made for us. We’ve done what we’ve been told and hopefully there are no consequences.”
Challinor called for greater clarity from the National League, with a meeting set to take place at the beginning of the week which will decide whether the division carries on or follows the Premier League and EFL and is suspended.
— Sutton United FC (@suttonunited) March 14, 2020
“Once the bigger leagues had made a decision, our lads straight away thought everyone would fall into place,” Hartlepool’s manager added.
“I was under the understanding from Thursday that unless the government made that call, which they may now make, the game would go ahead and what you want as a player is clarity.”
With little other football taking place in the capital, Sutton had their second highest home attendance of the season and fans witnessed the opener after three minutes when Isaac Olaofe closed down goalkeeper Ben Killip’s clearance.
It remained 1-0 at half-time, but Hartlepool levelled seven minutes into the second period through Gavan Holohan and it finished all square.
The show must go on (just about) in the National League. Gander Green Lane will be one of the only places in London hosting football. pic.twitter.com/nUYFEtVwGw
— George Sessions (@GeorgeSessions) March 14, 2020
Sutton manager Wayne Gray said: “Probably the build-up to the game wasn’t really affected because we trained yesterday morning, came in mid-day and that was when we found out the Premier League and EFL had been cancelled.
“To be honest when I was driving away from here yesterday I thought it was inevitable that we would be off as well.
“Obviously we were waiting for news, we heard there was a board meeting with the National League and the bottom line is the National League have got advice from the FA, the FA have got advice from the government and so we are here to play.
“Touch wood at the moment there is no one associated with this club – staff, players and whatever – who have contracted the virus, so we’re fit to play and we play as long as they tell us otherwise.”