Southampton on Thursday became the first Premier League club to defer players' wages as a senior official for their union insisted they were doing their bit for the nation during the coronavirus pandemic.
Southampton's players, manager Ralph Hasenhuttl, his staff and the club's directors will defer their salaries for April, May and June. The club said the measure would "help protect the future of the club, the staff that work within it and the community we serve".
Southampton also said they would not be using the government scheme to pay the salaries of other employees. The decision comes amid a row about whether Premier League players -- with an average salary of three million pounds ($3.7 million) -- should be forced to give up some of their salary to help the nation.
Bobby Barnes, deputy chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association (PFA), said players were being demonised by people who ignored the fact many were helping "extended families" at home and abroad.
Barnes's defence of the players came after stars including Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson and England captain Harry Kane launched an initiative to generate funds for Britain's National Health Service (NHS), called #PlayersTogether.
It will involve players making voluntary contributions and has been hailed as a "fantastic" initiative by the NHS. Barnes was speaking before the players' announcement, which omitted any mention of the PFA. The former West Ham forward said those outside football should not see issues as black or white.
"There are shades of grey," said the 57-year-old. "I don't want players to be demonised. It's as if our players are off buying gold Rolls-Royces every day. They’re not."
- 'Seen as the Anti-Christ' -
Barnes -- whose niece is an NHS midwife -- dismissed the suggestion that players lived in a bubble.
"Everybody’s suggesting the players are not aware of the economic realities of this situation," he said.
"Players are not blind to what's going on in the wider world. The vast majority of footballers are all working-class boys, like my generation, and we are all very aware of what's going on out there."
Barnes -- whose boss Gordon Taylor has declined to take a cut to his own £2 million salary -- said foreign players were contributing to the battle.
"Spanish players, Italian players, particularly the African players are saying, we would like to donate money, but we want to divert money to some of our countries where we have some real severe difficulties," he said.
"Another thing that doesn't get picked up is they're supporting extended families, overseas players. I'm also talking to local players, who are supporting extended families, doing what they can to help them. That's their working-class background."
Barnes was scathing about politicians including Health Secretary Matt Hancock criticising footballers. Hancock caused a furore last Thursday when he called on players to "play their part" and take pay cuts.
"The players were really insulted when Hancock made that particular comment," said Barnes.
Hancock -- whose department has been subject to hefty criticism for a lack of preparedness for the pandemic -- admitted the players' NHS initiative was a huge step forward.
"Warmly welcome this big-hearted decision from so many Premier League footballers to create #PlayersTogether to support NHS Charities. You are playing your part," he tweeted.
Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford -- whose work with a food distribution charity in Manchester to feed children attracted a huge public response in terms of donations -- said the players had not wanted to respond with a scattergun approach but with a single goal.
"We wanted to take our time with the decision," Rashford told BT Sport.
"We want to help in the best way possible and getting money to the right places is a massive thing."
More than 60,000 people, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson who is being treated at an intensive care unit, have tested positive for COVID-19 in Britain, and more than 7,000 have died from the virus.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Daniel Leal-Olivas