Sam Allardyce yesterday made the remarkable claim that his Blackburn Rovers team had passed on a contagious strain of swine flu to Chelsea after the Premier League refused to give dispensation to clubs to postpone fixtures if their players had become infected with the illness.
Allardyce, who has lost Christopher Samba, David Dunn and another unnamed player to swine flu along with at least two members of staff, including the club doctor, said that Blackburn had been warned by the Premier League that they should not attempt to get games called off despite the outbreak. As a result he said that they went ahead and played the game at Stamford Bridge on Saturday and now, according to Allardyce, have passed the infection on to their opponents.
Asked whether this would have meant that there are now Chelsea players with the infection, Allardyce said: "There is no doubt about that. When you look at the medical side of it, it is one of the most infectious viruses we have had. You don't know where it has come from but they are not going to stop it, are they?"
The Premier League rules dictate that clubs must do everything they can to fulfil their fixture commitments and only in the most pressing circumstances can clubs seek dispensation for games to be postponed. Allardyce argued that it was not the number of players missing that justified the game being called off but rather the severity of swine flu and the threat it poses.
The Blackburn manager said that clubs had been made aware last year that they should not use swine flu as an excuse to call games off and therefore Blackburn had not applied for Saturday's game to be postponed because they believed any attempt to do so would be doomed to failure.
He said: "I would not have gone to the extent I have but reading in the paper the Premier League said we made no request to get the game called off. That's just sitting on the fence – normal splinters up the backside as usual. They know that we went through the right procedures and that we did not call it off because we couldn't. There was no point in trying because back in February or March they told us we had to get a team out there no matter what.
"It is their responsibility to consider how dangerous it might be to allow this to spread throughout football so they have shirked responsibility – not us. I don't think they have put much thought into it at all."
Chelsea said yesterday that they have not discovered any cases of swine flu among their players or staff and are not concerned by the situation. Chelsea were contacted by Blackburn as a matter of courtesy before the game. Chelsea face Bolton Wanderers in the Carling Cup fourth round at home tomorrow night while Allardyce's side play Peterborough United in the same competition tonight.
The Premier League has always been militantly against clubs postponing games and has demanded answers from the likes of Portsmouth, Blackburn and Bolton who have had to postpone games in January in recent years because of frozen pitches. It is a stipulation of the Premier League that all clubs have undersoil heating in order to allow them to fulfil fixtures.
A Premier League spokesman said: "As ever, when it comes to health matters the Premier League will be guided by the relevant statutory authorities. If a club postpones any of their matches they would have to prove that they were unable to fulfil their fixture. The Premier League does not anticipate, at this stage, any circumstances under which a match could be justifiably postponed."
A similar situation in France saw Paris St-Germain's visit to Marseilles called off at the final minute on Sunday. Several PSG players had been diagnosed with swine flu and the rest of the Ligue 1 team were quarantined, but the French League waited until lunchtime to call the evening game off.
Clubs criticised the French League yesterday after 20 people were injured and 18 arrested in clashes between police and fans following the postponement of the game. Local authorities were unhappy that French Professional League (LFP) president Frédéric Thiriez had waited until 2,000 PSG supporters were already on the streets of Marseilles.
"The decision to postpone the game was taken thoughtlessly and too late," the Marseilles chairman, Jean-Claude Dassier, said. The coach, Didier Deschamps, added that the postponement of the game "was difficult to understand". The PSG chairman, Robin Leproux, criticised the LFP for having "hastily decided on Saturday that the game should be played".
Medical View: Why Allardyce's fears are unfounded
By Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor
Sam Allardyce's caution over swine flu is overdone. Flu is highly infectious and easily transmitted, and is spreading through Blackburn's squad in the same way it has gone through schools and families around the country. But out on the pitch, where the contact between players is fleeting, the chances of passing on infection are low. The players might consider avoiding shaking hands because they are a key route of transmission for viruses.
Perhaps opposing teams should make liberal use of alcohol gel and hand wipes. But if a player genuinely has swine flu, he is likely to be too knackered to play, and shouldn't be exercising anyway.