Hibernian players will keep the NHS close to their hearts even after the coronavirus crisis has passed.
The Leith club have announced that their strips will have the words ‘THANK YOU NHS’ printed across the chest, with £5 from the sale of similarly emblazoned tops being donated to NHS charity, Edinburgh & Lothians Health Foundation.
There will also be fundraising events, while the first home league game will be designated ‘Thank You NHS Day’ and hundreds of healthcare staff will be invited along as guests of the Easter Road outfit.
But a “pragmatic” Hibernian chief executive Leeann Dempster says she doesn’t know when that will be. Like everyone else she has heard government warnings that social distancing measures will be in place long after lockdown eases, doubling down on First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s forecast from earlier this week that even closed-door sporting events may not be possible until a coronavirus vaccine is found.
“I’ve tried to be pragmatic about it since the start. I listened to the First Minister’s comments on Thursday and I try to watch the Westminster briefings and we need to be utterly respectful of the information we are being given,” said Dempster.
“That doesn’t preclude us from preparing, getting organised and working in partnership. But we would never suggest anything that might go against any of the public health messages.
“There are a lot of considerations that we, as the sport and leisure industry, need to think about. My opinion on certain things has changed in the last four weeks, it has changed in the last two weeks, so we just need to remain connected and as open-minded as possible.
“Of course, we want to get to a point where football resumes but it needs to come at a point where it is happening in partnership – because no-one wants to get this wrong.”
With a prolonged football shutdown likely and finances tight as a consequence, the choice of shirt sponsor has been viewed in an even more generous light. But Dempster, who has close family links to the NHS, insists it is the right thing to do.
“We’ve had some support from a small number of fans who have helped us do this and have shown a desire to help us financially,” said Dempster. “By no means will it – or do we need it to – replace a commercial proposition. But we had already decided that it was something we wanted to do.
“It came about through a conversation about the NHS and ways we could show our appreciation. One of the non-exec directors said ‘wouldn’t it be great if we could say thanks to the NHS on our shirts’ and that just sat with us. We started to go through the practicalities of that with our team and we’ve worked really hard in the last week to ten days to bring that to life in the most sincere way we can.
“There is a real appreciation for everything that is being done by the NHS and when we say NHS, we really mean everyone working in that care-giving environment.”
Working alongside NHS Lothian to deliver community projects for more than six years, Dempster clarified their stance. “We are not jumping on any bandwagon – we have been doing this work for several years.
“We already walk the walk when it comes to offering our support, but we just wanted to add another layer. It’s not just about the words on the shirt and this encompasses everyone who works within a general caring environment,” said the chief executive, who has many personal reasons to be thankful for the NHS.
“I have a niece and a sister-in-law who are both nurses and totally committed to their professions.
“They go to their work every day and, even before this crisis, faced up to unimaginable challenges. The NHS touches all of our lives in some way, you just hope it is in as positive a context as possible.
“You could probably ask most people and they would have a connection to the NHS.
“My father-in-law is in a nursing home at the moment and the work they do to keep the residents safe is absolutely unbelievable. The commitment, dedication and determination to do everything in their power to keep people safe is humbling in the biggest way.
“Without getting political in any way, I think if one thing comes from all this then it will be that the NHS, care sector and those who we have desperately relied on through this period will have a standing which they rightly deserve.
“My own mother is in one of the shielded groups and hasn’t been out of her wee house for the last seven weeks. We all have concerns and worries.”