Premier League: Four more positive cases after third round of coronavirus testing

Four more people from three Premier League clubs have tested positive for coronavirus after the third round of testing.

There were 1,008 tests carried out on Monday and Tuesday – and a fourth round will take place on Thursday and Friday, with up to 60 people from each club to be tested.

  • PL clubs approve return to contact training
  • Nev: Plan June 19 restart, players will be fit

It is not yet known whether the four new positive tests are players, non-playing staff, or a combination of both – or whether any of the positives are from people who tested positive in the first round and who have returned after self-isolating for seven days.

A statement read: “The Premier League can today confirm that on Monday 25 May and Tuesday 26 May, 1,008 players and club staff were tested for COVID-19.

“Of these, four have tested positive from three clubs.

“Players or club staff who have tested positive will now self-isolate for a period of seven days.

“Previously, between 19-22 May, 996 players and club staff were tested for COVID-19, of which two tested positive from two clubs.

“Some 748 players and club staff were tested for COVID-19 on 17-18 May, with six testing positive from three clubs.

“For the fourth round of testing, the number of tests available to each club will be increased from 50 to 60.”

COVID-19 impact on football

March 5 – Pre-match handshakes banned in the Premier League.
March 11 – Man City v Arsenal is first Premier League game suspended; Liverpool v Atletico Madrid the last top level game played in England.
March 12 – Man Utd, Wolves play away Europa League ties behind closed doors, Rangers host Bayer Leverkusen in front of fans.
March 13 – Football suspended following an emergency meeting between PL, FA, EFL and WSL
April 15 – SPFL clubs approve plan to end the Scottish Championship, League One and league Two seasons.
May 15 – League Two clubs vote to end the season with immediate effect.
May 17 – Premier League players and staff tested for COVID-19.
May 18 – Scottish Premiership curtailed, with points per game determining league positions and Celtic named champions.
May 19 – Premier League clubs return to socially distanced group training.
May 25 – Women’s Super League cancelled, with title and relegation to be determined.
May 27 –Premier League clubs vote to resume contact training.

The next set of testing will be the first to be conducted when at least some of the Premier League clubs have resumed contact training, which was unanimously approved on Wednesday.

No matches have been played in the Premier League since March, but the government has given the go-ahead for elite sport to resume from June 1.

And the return of contact training is seen as a major step towards a possible resumption of the Premier League next month.

Clubs will meet again on Thursday to discuss the broader details of how what has been dubbed Project Restart might take shape – including contingency talks on how curtailment of the season would look, if it is not deemed safe to resume.

Premier League clubs approve contact training

Premier League clubs voted unanimously on Wednesday to approve a return to contact training, in another significant step towards the resumption of matches “when safe to do so”.

The significance of contact training is that it’s the single biggest step towards the resumption of matches.

Throughout the pandemic there have been concerns raised about the risks associated with training and what it takes for coronavirus to be transmitted on the pitch.

If there is no spike in positive tests, with fewer negative results over more tests, it will give the authorities, and clubs, the confidence that it will be safe to resume competitive games next month.

If everything goes to plan with contact training, a third vote, on a specific date, is expected in due course.

Read more here about the return of contact training and what it means for the Premier League season

Contingency plans to be discussed on Thursday

Thursday is another important day for the Premier League. That is when all other aspects of Project Restart will be discussed, including the league’s contingency plans on relegation, the issue of the use of points-per-game, and the award of the Premier League title, if the season has to be curtailed.

Analysis: 12 positive tests but 12 different people?

Analysis by Bryan Swanson, Chief Reporter, Sky Sports News

“Four positive results out of just over 1,000 tests in the third round of testing only tells us half a story.

“There have been 12 positive results since testing has been published this month.

“But we don’t yet know whether these new results include any of the six people who tested positive in the first round and have since returned from seven days in self-isolation.

“The figure is still relatively low so will provide further cautious optimism for the Premier League, only hours after the significant decision was made to resume contact training.

The figure is still relatively low so will provide further cautious optimism for the Premier League, only hours after the significant decision was made to resume contact training.

Bryan Swanson, Chief Reporter, Sky Sports News

“These latest results again demonstrate that coronavirus is not widespread in all 20 clubs at the moment, at least not among an average of 50 people tested per club in the third round.

“Crucially, there has been no cluster of positive results in one club.

“The fact there are four positive tests must be taken seriously and those individuals must self-isolate for seven days before they take a further COVID-19 test.

“They cannot attend the training ground and three clubs will want to establish what contact those individuals had with other people, in particular in the same household.

“In theory, they should have not have come into close contact with anyone outside their household since March, under the government’s social distancing rules.

“It is important to highlight there have been 2,740 negative results in the first three rounds, around 99.5 per cent.

“Up to 60 people from each club will now be tested from the next round, twice a week, in line with an agreement to resume contact training.

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Livingston keeper Gary Maley to donate wages to charity after joke poll

A light-hearted Twitter poll allowing fans to decide whether Livingston should give their third-choice goalkeeper a new contract has ended up raising money for a children’s charity.

With a regular job at a civil engineering company, and the COVID-19 pandemic making it a difficult time for clubs, 37-year-old part-timer Gary Maley had offered to stand down, so his salary could pay for a younger player.

But the Scottish Premiership club decided instead to “put it in the hands of fans”, regarding whether to offer ‘Stretch’ an extension.

📋| Quite possibly a football first but we’re giving you the chance to decide on the future of goalkeeper @Maley1Gary.

With his contract expiring next month, we’re leaving it in the hands of the fans as to whether or not we offer “Stretch” an extension.

Stay or go – you decide!

“Stay or go – you decide!” the poll declared.

Assistant manager David Martindale, best man at the goalkeeper’s wedding, joined in by promising a pound to charity for every vote – only to find more than 190,000 votes had been cast by Wednesday!

Some fans expressed shock that the club would put a player’s future out to a vote – but Maley has confirmed he was in on the stunt.

It’s time to hang your gloves up big fella, you had a good run at it. Scott McDonald penalty save at Tannadice a glorious high in your career, the only high tbf. Take care but we have to move on 👍🏻👍🏻⚽️⚽️

He is a contracts director for civil engineering firm GGK Contracts and said: “Davie (Martindale) told me to come and look at a couple of issues that I could get my guys to fix with the drainage in the dressing room.

“He mentioned my contract and I said ‘look, give it to one of the kids, I am 37, I am nearly done’.

“He said ‘we will have a bit of fun with it, have a laugh, we will put up a vote on Twitter’.

“Davie said he would put a pound in per vote for charity, thinking we would get 500 votes.

“Obviously it escalated something ridiculous and Davie soon withdraw that offer!

“It was really meant as a joke and a bit of fun. I am part-time at football, it’s something I enjoy but I have a day job.

“It looks as though I’m going to win the vote and extend my deal but I said I will donate the next two months’ wages to charity and Davie will match that.

“It is all for a good cause. It is for the John O’Byrne Foundation, which helps really ill children.

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Belgian GP 1995 Watchalong: Michael Schumacher vs Damon Hill at wet Spa

Don’t miss the latest Sky F1 Watchalong on Wednesday evening as we transport you back to the midst of one the fiercest rivalries in the sport’s history and a controversial, topsy-turvy battle around arguably its best circuit, in the toughest of wet conditions.

It’s the 1995 Belgian Grand Prix from Spa-Francorchamps where Michael Schumacher made history by winning from 16th on the grid, Damon Hill was angered by his great rival’s defensive driving, and Martin Brundle finished on the podium for outsiders Ligier.

  • The latest edition of The Notebook

Hill, Brundle and Johnny Herbert – Schumacher’s Benetton team-mate that day who led the race’s early stages – are reunited to watch back the best (and, in some of their cases, worst) moments from an unforgettable afternoon, with fellow Sky F1 colleague David Croft.

Does Damon still hold the same opinion of Schumacher’s driving a quarter of a century on? How did Johnny go from the lead to seventh place? And just how difficult was it to drive the undulating and fast 4.4-mile circuit in the wet?

Watch along with the Sky F1 team on Sky F1, YouTube, Facebook, and on this page from 7.30pm

The background to a tense race day

Schumacher, F1’s defending champion, held a reduced 11-point lead over big rival Hill going into the race, the 11th round of the 16-race season.

Hill had halved his title deficit at the previous race in Hungary when the Williams driver’s third win of the year had coincided with a rare race retirement for Schumacher and Benetton.

But the Englishman, already enduring a turbulent year on the track, still had it all on to overcome Schumacher and exact revenge on losing out on the title at the last race in the controversial finish to 1994.

But the cards seemed to be falling in Hill’s favour at Spa, as although he qualified only eighth in wet conditions of qualifying, he was still eight places ahead of Schumacher – whose Saturday never got going after a crash in second practice, which was followed by technical problems with his car.

Schumacher therefore started 16th – he had never previously qualified outside the top 10 in F1, while no one had ever won at Spa from lower than 12th on the grid.

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Ianis Hagi: Rangers close to permanent deal for Romanian midfielder

Rangers are closing in on a deal to sign Ianis Hagi from Genk on a permanent basis, and could complete his signing within the next 24 hours.

Genk claimed a permanent deal had been completed on Tuesday evening, before deleting the statement from their website.

The Romanian midfielder joined Rangers on loan in January, with Steven Gerrard’s side having an option to buy.

Despite Genk originally wanting around £4.5m for Hagi, the proposed deal will see Rangers pay £3m in instalments across three seasons.

Hagi scored three goals in 12 appearances for Rangers before the coronavirus pandemic halted the season.

Last week, Rangers confirmed the summer departure of six players, including popular midfielder Andy Halliday and former Liverpool full-back Jon Flanagan.

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Coronavirus: Liverpool vs Atletico Madrid and Cheltenham Festival ‘led to spike’ in coronavirus deaths

Liverpool’s Champions League home match against Atletico Madrid and the Cheltenham Festival contributed to an increase in coronavirus deaths in the UK, a scientist has said.

Professor Tim Spector, from King’s College London, said the two events held in March had “caused increased suffering and death that wouldn’t otherwise have occurred”.

He said data from an app used to report COVID-19 symptoms showed that Cheltenham and the North West both became “key hotspots” for the coronavirus.

Despite several European countries and cities already being in lockdown by the time the sports fixtures took place, Prime Minister Boris Johnson waited until 23 March to announce his own “stay at home” message in the UK.

More than 251,000 people attended the Cheltenham Festival from March 16-19 this year – a drop of nearly 15,000 compared to 2019.

Liverpool’s exit from the last-16 of the Champions League on March 11 was watched by around 52,000 people inside Anfield, including 3,000 visiting supporters who had travelled from Madrid – where such events had already been suspended.

By the time Mr Johnson ordered the lockdown, the number of coronavirus cases in the UK stood at 6,650 and the number of deaths was 336.

Since then, nearly 37,000 people have died in the UK after contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, and there have been more than 262,000 cases.

Last month, Liverpool City Council announced plans to jointly investigate the spread of the virus in Merseyside, alongside the University of Liverpool and John Moores University, following the match.

Professor Spector, who works in genetic epidemiology research, said: “Two weeks after the Cheltenham Festival and the Liverpool game against Atletico Madrid, we saw the number of people reporting COVID symptoms in the COVID Symptom Study app from those particular areas increase and both areas became key hotspots in the UK.

“This suggests that both events were, in part, a cause for the spread of COVID-19 in those areas.”

Data from the Kings College study shows a higher number of cases in Cheltenham and Liverpool compared to their surrounding areas from 22 March to 29 March.

Liverpool City Council’s director of public health Matthew Ashton is convinced the game against Atletico Madrid should not have gone ahead.

But the government believes the events took place within “clear guidance” given at the time.

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European Tour: Shane Lowry would only travel for Irish Open in 2020

Shane Lowry has admitted that he is unlikely to feature on the European Tour this year and that a rescheduled Irish Open would be his only appearance.

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The Champion Golfer of the Year has been based at his Florida home throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, with Lowry set to play in seven of the first nine PGA Tour events when tournaments resume in America next month.

Tournament officials are hopeful that the Irish Open could be rescheduled for later in the year, having been postponed in its original May date, with Lowry expecting global travel restrictions to limit any chance of playing regularly on both tours.

“The way it is, especially with the quarantine on both sides, I don’t think it’d be physically possible for me (to go back to Europe),” Lowry told RTE 2FM’s Game On.

“The only tournament I would contemplate going back for was if there was an Irish Open put back on the schedule or something like that.

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“I haven’t seen a schedule from the European Tour so I can’t really tell but I’ll probably be mostly in America for the rest of the year.”

Lowry will be without regular caddie Bo Martin for the first few events back on the PGA Tour, with Darren Reynolds – Paul Dunne’s former bagman – temporarily taking over.

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Pep Guardiola delighted with Man City fitness as Premier League nears potential return

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola is delighted with the fitness of his players as the Premier League nears a return, with clubs expected to give the go-ahead to the introduction of phase two of training on Wednesday.

If phase two is agreed, there are hopes that a return to competition could be agreed by the end of the week as champions City trail leaders Liverpool by 25 points, with the Reds likely to win their first top-flight title since 1990.

Key week for the Premier League

Monday: Next twice-weekly round of COVID-19 testing begins, continuing into Tuesday, with results expected on Wednesday.

Tuesday: Premier League will discuss updated government advice on contact training with club captains, managers and representatives from PFA and LMA.

Wednesday: Premier League clubs will vote on whether to resume contact training.

Thursday: Clubs meet again to discuss broader details of Project Restart – including how curtailment of the season would look.

City, who have 10 games remaining, returned to training last week for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak in March, which froze football in England and across the world.

  • Government approves close-contact training
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Guardiola, who led City to a domestic treble last season, told the club’s website that his players “came back perfectly”.

“Yeah, really good,” he said about his squad’s fitness. “I think they were looking forward to coming back and to train again and do what they like.

“They came back perfectly. We follow the rules, the protocol. We have to. That’s the most important thing. We don’t do anything special.”

The Spaniard also took the opportunity to praise key workers during the ongoing pandemic, while insisting football fans must remain patient ahead of a potential return to top-flight action.

“The special ones are the doctors, nurses, scientists, cleaners – they put their own lives at risk to save ours,” he added.

“When it’s a special situation around the world, you have to adapt. I think all the fans around the world are waiting to watch football. We want to come back but now the priority is other things.

“It [the message] is still ‘stay safe, be careful, and when everything is possible we will come back’. First, I think without them, but hopefully we come back to a routine.

“But now the most important thing is to follow the instructions. If they say use a mask, stay at home, social distance… we have to do it. Because there are many, many people in the NHS who put their own lives at risk to save ours.”

PL return date could be agreed by end of the week

A Premier League return date could be agreed by the end of the week, with clubs expected to approve phase two of training on Wednesday.

The league has received government approval to progress to the next stage of Project Restart, enabling competitive and close-contact training, including tackling, in groups of up to 12 players.

Players and managers will have the chance to discuss any remaining concerns over phase two when they hold separate video calls with the Premier League on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, clubs will then vote on whether to move to the next stage of training, which could be introduced at training grounds before the end of this week.

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Glyn Pardoe: Former Manchester City defender dies aged 73

Glyn Pardoe, a member of Manchester City’s 1968 league-winning side, has died at the age of 73, the Premier League club have announced.

Pardoe spent his entire playing career with City between 1962 and 1976, and scored the winning goal in the 1970 League Cup final.

“Everyone at City is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Glyn Pardoe,” City wrote on Twitter.

“Our thoughts and condolences go out to his friends and family at this difficult time.”

Forever my hero! I love you so much. Rest easy 💙

Pardoe remains the youngest player to turn out for City, having made his debut against Birmingham in April 1962 at the age of 15 years and 341 days old.

The left-back went on to make 380 appearances for the club during their successful period in the late 1960s, winning the league title in 1968, the FA Cup in 1969, and the League Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1970.

But Pardoe broke his leg in a tackle with George Best during a Manchester derby in 1970 and struggled to regain his place in the side after a lengthy lay-off. He later took up a coaching position with the club after retiring from playing.

City was a family affair for Pardoe, whose cousin Alan Oakes was a team-mate throughout his playing days.

Pardoe’s daughter Charlotte is married to Scott Doyle, the son of Pardoe’s late team-mate Mike Doyle, and both men were grandfathers to Tommy Doyle, the 18-year-old midfielder who made his debut for City in a 3-1 League Cup win over Southampton in October last year.

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Arsenal 1989: The making of the team that won the title at Anfield 31 years ago

It was hailed as the greatest climax to the title race in English football history. May 26, 1989, the night Arsenal snatched the title from Liverpool with virtually the last kick of the season. 

It was the last match of the 1988/89 season. Arsenal, three points behind leaders Liverpool, had to win by two clear goals to clinch the title, and 18 million viewers tuned in to see who would be crowned champions.

  • Anfield ’89: ‘We’ll never see the like again’
  • ‘It’s up for grabs now…’

What transpired would go down in English footballing folklore as Arsenal dreams were realised in thrilling fashion thanks to Michael Thomas’ stoppage-time clincher.

Thirty-one years on, this is the story of those involved on that unforgettable night at Anfield and how plans to forever immortalise the match culminated with creation of the documentary ’89’.

‘The pressure was on’

The scale of the task placed in front of Arsenal was at best sizeable and at worst nigh-on impossible. The all-conquering Liverpool side of the 1980s simply didn’t lose at Anfield, let alone by the two-goal margin Arsenal required.

“They were just rattling off win after win after win and they weren’t 1-0 wins, they were winning convincingly by three or four,” Arsenal midfielder Thomas said. “They had the whole of the nation behind them – and rightly so – and the pressure was on us.”

Hillsborough tribute

The last few weeks of the 1988/89 season had been overshadowed by the tragedy at Hillsborough, meaning the meeting of the two title rivals was postponed until the end of May.

Before a ball had even been kicked at Anfield, Arsenal ensured they paid their respects to the 96 supporters who sadly lost their lives, as Gunners manager George Graham recalls.

“It was a great gesture by Ken Friar, one of the bosses at Arsenal, to have the players go out with a bouquet of flowers and throw them to the Liverpool fans. It was a fantastic gesture.”

All square at half-time

Though the first half was keenly contested there were few clear-cut chances. Both sides seemed reluctant to over-commit as they went into the interval with the scoreline locked at 0-0, and it was all part of the tactical master plan of Graham and Arsenal.

“Everybody was telling me that you’ve got to go up there and, from the word go, go out and attack them,” Graham said. “I said ‘no, we’ll try to be cautious’. The only thing I didn’t expect was that Liverpool would think the same.

“I said they’re going to be nervous if we score and they’re going to have to come at us. I said we’ll then get the second and, with a bit of luck, we might even get three. Anyway, they all looked at me as if I was crazy!”

Free-kick routine pays off for Smith

Early in the second half Arsenal were awarded a free kick outside the Liverpool penalty area, as Alan Smith recalls.

“We practised that free kick so much in training and used it so many times in matches but it never came off,” Smith said. “We thought ‘oh no – we’re not going to try this one again!'”

This time it did work. Smith converted Nigel Winterburn’s delivery with a glancing header. Liverpool’s players surrounded the referee in protest.

“We were all convinced that the referee was going to disallow it having spoken to the linesman,” Smith added. “When he’s pointed to the centre circle you’re thinking ‘wow, we’ve got the first goal here’.”

A missed opportunity?

Arsenal feared their chance had come and gone when Thomas prodded a shot straight at the Liverpool ‘keeper Bruce Grobbelaar late on.

“I thought I had players both sides of me,” Thomas recalls. “I see it now on the TV and I had plenty of time to bury it. I panicked. I didn’t panic the second time!”

‘It’s up for grabs now’

Luckily for Arsenal, and Thomas, they had one final opportunity. Goalkeeper John Lukic threw the ball to Lee Dixon in space. Dixon’s pass out of defence then found Smith, who brought the ball down with exquisite control before lofting it forward in search of Thomas.

“I’ve just seen this yellow blur in my peripheral vision,” Smith said. “It was Michael making one of those barnstorming runs.”

When the ball bounced kindly for him via a deflection from Steve Nicol, Thomas found himself through on Grobbelaar’s goal, as the midfielder recalls.

“It was slow motion then, it’s still slow motion now. I don’t watch it enough. When I do see it if I’m round someone’s house I walk out the room. It’s still a tingly moment in my whole body, and I’m thinking ‘he’s going to get you, he’s going to get you, Ray Houghton is going to tackle you, he’s getting closer…’

“Then, as I said before, I’m thinking about Bruce [Grobbelaar], how great a goalkeeper he was, and I waited for him to make the first move. Once he did that, that was me, I knew what I was doing.”

Retro Blog: Liverpool 0-1 Arsenal

How Arsenal’s title triumph unfolded…


90+1: Barnes drives into the Arsenal penalty area as the Gunners ferociously hunt the ball down.

It’s exactly where Liverpool want the ball as they look to hold on to claim the Championship.

Richardson eventually gets a foot to the ball to get the ball back to Lukic. There can only be seconds remaining. Arsenal need a goal…


90+2: Arsenal stream forward. Is this to be Arsenal’s final attack? It must be…

Lukic bowls the ball out to Dixon. Dixon clips an excellent ball to Smith, who is 40 yards from the Liverpool goal. As he’s done all evening, he holds the ball up brilliantly, taking a touch before hoisting the ball forward.

Thomas takes the ball in his stride. He charges through the midfield, evading the challenge of Nicol. The midfielder’s in on goal… IT’S UP FOR GRABS NOW…

GOAL! LIVERPOOL 0-2 ARSENAL (Thomas, 90+2)


He bursts into the penalty area, takes one touch and faints to shoot before lifting the ball over the on-rushing Grobbelaar and into the back of the net.

There are wild celebrations. There’s a forward roll and a jog on the floor from Thomas, while Winterburn runs away from his team-mates to celebrate with the Arsenal fans.

There’s carnage on the pitch. There’s carnage in the away end. There’s carnage on the Arsenal bench. I swear you’ll never see anything like this ever again.

It’s Arsenal who are now just seconds away from winning the Championship.

‘A very proud moment’

Thomas lifted the ball over Grobbelaar. Arsenal had their two-goal lead. Liverpool had no time to react. At the final whistle George Graham’s side celebrated Arsenal’s first league title triumph since 1971, and it’s a proud moment for all involved.

“I feel very proud about that moment, what I’ve achieved in the game and the fact that I achieved it with the players I grew up with in the Arsenal youth team,” Thomas said. “The only person I miss to share that moment with is David Rocastle because we grew up playing schoolboy football together in south London schools. Sadly he passed but we miss him deeply – very deeply.”

Smith added: “I remember sitting back in the dressing room, sipping on a little cup of champagne and somebody said `lads, we might as well retire now, it’s never going to get any better than this. And when you think about it, it’s not. How can it get any better that that?”

The making of ’89’

To mark the 31st anniversary of their title-winning triumph, former Arsenal team-mates Alan Smith, Paul Merson and Lee Dixon, who was an executive producer for ’89’, sat down with Geoff Shreeves to explain the importance of documenting that unforgettable night at Anfield…

‘The greatest story never told’

Alan Smith: “Up until the point the documentary had been made, it was the greatest story that had never been told. When you start talking about it again, you remember things you thought you had forgotten, you see the boys and they tell you their memories and that triggers something in your mind. It was special to all of us

“It’s something that could never be repeated. To go back to those days, which were a long time ago, and the way in which the film got a sense of the 1980s was great. We were delighted it came out so brilliantly well and captured drama of not only the night but the season as well.”

‘Aguero moment doesn’t compare’

Paul Merson: “I was pleased when I got the call to do a couple of interviews for the documentary because I felt the game had been brushed under the carpet a bit. It wasn’t appreciated as much as it should have been, Arsenal should have marked it every time it came around.

“To be the best team of the time was such a massive thing. It will never be done again. People talk about the Sergio Aguero situation, but it doesn’t even add up to it. [In 89] it was two of the top teams, first versus second, on the final game of the season.

“You’ve only got to look at the league fixtures now to know it will never be done again, you’ll never get Liverpool vs Manchester City on the last day of the season. That will never happen and that’s why it will never be done again.

“There was such camaraderie in that team. When we got on that pitch together, everybody worked hard for each other. I’m very grateful that the documentary was made because we’ve got memories now. The film came out and we’ve also got that to show to the kids and grandchildren.”

‘Documentary applies colour to the painting’

Lee Dixon: “The Aguero moment was an unbelievable situation, but when people start talking about it in the same way as ’89, I glaze over. If you compare the two, game by game, the importance of each game, they are not even in the same ballpark. That moment at Anfield will never happen again as long as we are on this planet, that is what makes it so special.

“Making the documentary was brilliant because I had my own memories, my own version of what happened on the night, but we would ask the lads what they thought about all of the subjects we covered, and they were slightly different.

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Eddie Jones and Conor O’Shea discuss ‘ruckgate’ from 2017 Six Nations

England head coach Eddie Jones and former Italy head coach Conor O’Shea discuss the controversial ‘ruckgate’ incident which brought rugby to a standstill in 2017.

Speaking on The Eddie Jones Coaching Podcast, the pair recount an unforgettable match at Twickenham between England and Italy during the Six Nations.

Listen to The Eddie Jones Coaching Podcast here

The controversy came as Italy’s tactics exposed a loophole in the law. The tactic involved, what was at the time, a perfectly legal interpretation of the rucking laws, where the visitors did not commit players to the ruck after making a tackle, eliminating the offside line.

World Rugby reacted quickly to the loophole and changed the law but, at the time, Jones said the match “wasn’t rugby” and described it as “a joke”.

But, speaking on The Eddie Jones Coaching Podcast, Jones said: “Firstly, it took a lot of courage for you guys to do it and anytime when you’re the underdog, as you were, and you try and do something at the start of the game which tactically and psychologically surprises the opposition, it’s great coaching.

“It also exposed a flaw in the law so it’s good that’s cleared up now and helped the game go forward.

“It was a great exercise for us, when you’re favourites to win the game, you’re always thinking about what the opposition are going to do to try and upset you.

“I was very happy with the way the players went about it because it’s not easy to play against, everyone says ‘pick and go’ but that doesn’t get you anywhere off a slow ball – it really added to the Six Nations.

“And if it doesn’t go right you get more criticised than normal, so it takes a lot of courage to do it and I thought it was good mate.”

O’Shea, now RFU director of performance, reminisced on their “lovely match” and said he had to change things up to give his side “something to cling on to” after coming off a big loss to Ireland, without breaking the rules.

He revealed he swore Ugo Monye, who was working as a TV co-commentator for the match, to secrecy after disclosing the team’s tactics to him before the game, so that the former British and Irish Lions winger could accurately explain it to people watching at home.

England were rattled by the tactics and it took them a while to adapt and respond. Captain Dylan Hartley and James Haskell had long conversations with referee Romain Poite with Haskell asking Poite what he wanted to see at the ruck.

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