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The FA Cup finalist from Dublin working the midnight shift on London Underground during lockdown

Former Millwall defender Robbie Ryan tells The42 how he is adapting to a new reality – ‘You worry that the virus will spread to you or someone in your family’.

Robbie Ryan in action for Millwall against Manchester United in the 2004 FA Cup final.
Robbie Ryan in action for Millwall against Manchester United in the 2004 FA Cup final.
Image: Matthew Ashton

Updated Mar 24th 2020, 8:00 PM

ROBBIE RYAN WILL start his shift repairing tracks on the London Underground at the usual time later tonight.

But these are the strangest and most worrying times the Dubliner has known on the job in the 13 years since quitting professional football.

“Not just since I finished playing, I don’t think anybody has every experienced a time like what we are living through at the moment,” Ryan tells The42.

Usually, he would leave his home near Bromley in south east London at 10pm to check in at the depot in Acton, in the west of the city, where he will be told by his supervisor which Tube line he will be working.

Before you would be in teams of five or six but now it’s down to two and we have to make sure the right distance of two metres is between us at all times,” Ryan explains.

From midnight until after sunrise tonight he will work alongside one other colleague inspecting miles of cables and tracks beneath the English capital’s streets.

The United Kingdom is now in lockdown after Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced far more stringent measures to battle the spread of Covid-19 last night.

Ryan, the former Millwall defender and beaten FA Cup finalist in 2004 when Manchester United triumphed in Cardiff, is braced for his new reality.

soccer-nationwide-league-division-one-millwall-v-leicester-city Robbie Ryan (right) with Paul Dickov. Source: EMPICS Sport

“It is quite scary to be honest with you. In England we seemed to have been a week or two behind everyone else in what they were doing.

“The pubs were still open up until recently but people were just told not to go. There were still a lot who went down there. We knew it was changing, you could see it, but since last night I hope that people now realise how dangerous it is.”

Ryan, like a lot of other people, saw images of a packed Tube carriage this morning, despite Johnson’s instructions to remain at home.

The London Underground remains open and while it’s business as usual – or as close to it as possible – for Ryan down below, he hopes to see people heed the warnings.

“I went to get milk this morning because we needed it for the house, there was barely anyone on the street,” he says. 

It’s getting real now, people are dying, the hospitals are going to be crowded and it makes you think about what the world will be like after all this. It’s going to be completely different, I think.

“The amount of deaths is going to get worse and worse day by the day. And I am beginning to worry that this virus will spread to me or someone in family. If you don’t take the precautions that are needed you won’t get away with it.

“I am classed as a key worker now but we are doing things right to try and protect ourselves. There are only two of us working together now and we have to make sure to be two metres apart.

“I know the trains were packed today but something will have to change . I do think something has to be done there. The only reason I think it should be still running is for workers in hospitals and other emergency services that people cannot do without.

soccer-friendly-millwall-v-southampton Former Milwall defender Robbie Ryan. Source: EMPICS Sport

“The virus spreads so fast so we have to stop the amount of people travelling because of that.”

There are other, deeper personal implications on Ryan’s own doorstep. “I walk my neighbour’s dog for her. She’s 85 years old so I try to help out for her but I’ve had to tell her that it’s for the best now to stop that.

“If she needs her shopping I can get that and drop it off, that can be done safely, but it would kill me to think that I passed on the virus to her. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I did that by being ignorant about it and not keeping the distance.

Just because you might see someone else out and doing something different doesn’t mean you do the same and it’s fine. It’s not, you can only really control what you are doing and the main thing for everyone is that as many people as possible come out of this at the other end.

“If we don’t listen to the experts then there will be more people who die and this will go on for months,” Ryan continues.

“In today’s world, I feel lucky knowing that I will still be paid through what’s happening. I never made the kind of money from football where I could give up work and I still have a mortgage to pay and my kid to look after.

“But I still have money coming in and that is a nice feeling because I have friends who are self employed and if this goes on for months and months you worry for them. It’s something else for people to worry about… It’s really scary times for people.”

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