Ahead of England’s Nations League opener away to Iceland on September 5, SSN’s Rob Dorsett is playing the waiting game
By Rob Dorsett, Sky Sports News reporter
Last Updated: 29/08/20 7:34pm
Sky Sports News’ Rob Dorsett explains why he is in Reykjavik very, very early to cover England’s Nations League clash against Iceland, with reporting a completely different ball game amid the coronavirus pandemic.
I’ve never been to Reykjavik before, but have always wanted to come. I’m told it’s stunning. I’ve been here for more than 24 hours now – and I still don’t know.
The discussions started a few days ago – if we wanted to be out here to cover Iceland vs England first hand, we would have to travel early. Very early.
On August 19, the Icelandic Government introduced new coronavirus measures which dictated any foreign national entering the country had two options – self-isolate for 14 days on arrival; or face a COVID-19 test inside the airport, quarantine for 5-6 days, and then face a second test. Only if both tests are negative, is the international visitor allowed to go around the country freely.
My boss decided – if we were in agreement – that both me and cameraman Scott Drummond could travel. After all, what is the difference between chasing newslines and jumping up for the odd live from my living room in Lincolnshire, and doing exactly the same from a hotel room in Reykjavik?
So we arrived on Friday lunchtime, thinking that would mean we were definitely clear for work by the time the England team arrive the next Friday – assuming neither of us had a positive test.
Before we could even collect our bags and kit from the carousel at Keflavik Airport, we disembarked to find ourselves in a queue for the coronavirus test – the usual passport booths replaced by temporary testing pods.
There, a friendly Icelandic nurse in full green medical gown and face visor, swabbed my throat and nose (which was much deeper and more invasive than I expected) and on we went.
From that moment, we were in quarantine. Public transport is forbidden, as is visiting any public place, restaurant or shop. A taxi took us directly to the hotel in Reykjavik, where we checked in.
The receptionist was the first person to give us thorough information about what we could and couldn’t do. We were escorted to the “quarantine area” of the hotel, away from the bars, restaurants and gym – and crucially, away from any other guests.
We should stay in our rooms, Justina explained, except for one occasion a day when we could go for a quick walk, but within a few hundred metres of the hotel and well away from other members of the public.
We could expect at least one phone call from the Icelandic police over the next few days, who would call our hotel room directly to make sure we were there, isolating.
If our plans work correctly, by Thursday, we should be clear to leave the hotel. England are due to arrive the next day, after training at St George’s Park in the morning.
As elite athletes, they are exempt from the usual immigration restrictions, as are the support staff, who have been reduced in number to 25. The bio-secure bubble around the England squad and staff means they can enter and leave Iceland as planned.
But the punitive restrictions for everyone else means there are likely to be many fewer journalists out here compared with the usual 30-40 who follow England. And there will be no England fans.
Several hundred of them booked flights to, and accommodation in, Reykjavik when the Nations League draw was made in early March – before the pandemic took hold. More supporters made plans to travel in June, when they heard that some Icelandic domestic matches were planning to have spectators in the grounds, and there was a possibility that England may have some away tickets for the international.
But that seems a long time ago now, and with the strict new quarantine rules, there is likely to be only a tiny amount of England fans in Reykjavik by Saturday.
Kevin Miles, chief executive of the Football Supporters Association, told me: “Many fans I’ve been talking to were praying for their flights to be cancelled, otherwise they might have struggled to get their money back.
“In many cases, the airlines only decided to cancel flights late. With the advantage of hindsight, it might’ve been kinder if UEFA had made the decision sooner, that all Nations League games would be played behind closed doors.
“As it was, the final decision only came last week, which was very late for fans to change their plans.”
For me, the decision that we would come out to Reykjavik to cover the game also came very late. We needed to be sure that the quarantine rules weren’t going to change. There is still the possibility that if the UK changes its policy on people returning from Iceland, we may have to quarantine for 14 days when we get back. But one step at a time.
The good news is – my first Covid-19 test has come back negative. I got a text from the Icelandic health board letting me know. So did cameraman Scott. The same result in five days’ time, and we will be free to cover the game. Fingers crossed!