STEVE BRUCE has broken ranks with the majority of his managerial peers and admitted that while he understands the financial necessity to keep football going, he now believes it is “morally wrong” for the sport to continue while coronavirus infection rates continue to rapidly increase.

It has been another chaotic week in the footballing world, with Middlesbrough, Sheffield United, Aston Villa and Derby County all having to close their training grounds in an attempt to contain serious Covid outbreaks, and the number of postponements in the elite game passing the 60 mark.

Newcastle were forced to shut their own Darsley Park training complex for ten days in early December, but while much of society has shut down as part of the latest national lockdown, the Government has decided that elite sport can continue.

There have been calls for that decision to be reversed, fuelled in part by some high-profile examples of footballers flagrantly flouting coronavirus regulations, and while most managers have argued their sport should continue, Bruce has conceded he is finding it increasingly hard to justify carrying on as normal.

“Financially, it is right, and I know it gives a lot of people enjoyment,” said the Newcastle manager, ahead of his side’s FA Cup third-round tie at Arsenal tomorrow. “But, for me, morally it is wrong.

“What is it going to take (for football to be stopped)? I’ve seen it, I’ve seen people here get very, very sick and one member of staff was so ill, he almost ended up in hospital. If that’s not serious enough, what will be?

“I’m sorry, look the Premier League have brought in really strong protocols and there are more of them being brought in today. As a little example, we have to take three different coaches to get to games.

“But when I see Manchester City and Aston Villa suffering and I see all the clubs lower down the leagues suffering? At the end of the day, we are all socialising in our working environment because we have to. We are following all the protocols and we had followed all the protocols before we had the mass infections, but it’s still very, very difficult to contain.”

Bruce’s viewpoint reflects his own personal experiences of having to help try to contain the outbreak that forced the cancellation of Newcastle’s game with Aston Villa at the start of December.

Within a couple of days of receiving their first positive test, Newcastle’s medical staff found themselves dealing with a situation in which the number of senior players recording positive test results had reached double figures.

Two of those players – Jamaal Lascelles and Allan Saint-Maximin – were affected so badly they are still to return to action, and having seen the impact of coronavirus at first hand, Bruce is adamant its should not be treated lightly.

“I’ve seen how dangerous it is,” he said. “How quickly it ripped through us. We adhered to all the protocols, but it takes one person to cause a mass infection and it was pretty scary stuff I can tell you. We went from two to 16 and then 18, and the following week there were more.

“The doctor took the decision to shut us down and that was the right thing to do, but the virus is everywhere now, it’s not just football. This new strain of the virus makes it more catchable.

“I’ve seen it first hand and we are still suffering weeks and weeks later. Arguably our best player (Saint-Maximin) has been laid low for six or seven weeks now, and he’s been unable to do anything at all. Trying to get him back is a big challenge.”

While the clubs are doing all they can to adhere to the latest strict protocols, their players ultimately have to take responsibility for their own actions. In the last few weeks, however, a number of high-profile figures have let themselves down.

“They’re young people, and it’s always difficult to monitor,” said Bruce. “They will probably regret it, the repercussions of it. Everyone makes mistakes and they’ve made one.

“But you can’t be with a football player 24/7. We have them for a few hours each day. When they go out, in the big, bad world, it’s very difficult to look after them.”