First Premier League club defers wages as union pleads for fairness

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 his members were being unfairly "demonised".

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, whose boss Gordon Taylor has declined to take a cut to his own £2 million salary -- was speaking before the players' announcement, which omitted any mention of the PFA.

"I don't want players to be demonised," said Barnes,

"It's as if our players are off buying gold Rolls-Royces every day. They’re not."

The 57-year-old former West Ham forward, -- whose niece is an NHS midwife -- insisted his members are "not blind to what's going on in the wider world".

- 'Insulted' -

Barnes was also scathing about politicians, including Health Secretary Matt Hancock, criticising footballers.

Hancock caused a furore last week 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.

Meanwhile Bournemouth captain Simon Francis, stressed the players' move was had not been inspired by Hancock's "disappointing" remarks.

"I don't want it to seem like it was a knee-jerk reaction to what has been said in the media - it wasn't that at all," Francis told the BBC.

"I spoke to Jordan in the morning of the day Matt Hancock came out and made his comments, so it was bad timing.

"With the problems we have across the country, for him to pick out footballers was disappointing."

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.

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