When spring comes around, that’s when it really comes down to it for the teams, and fans become even more invested in football. However, everything is different this year. Game operations in all top European leagues are currently suspended. Instead of goals, points and fighting for spots in the table, it's all about the fight against the spread of the coronavirus - which is now a major challenge for people worldwide. Border restrictions and social distancing are now the order of the day. Niklas Stark and his teammates have been in quarantine for almost a week after a first team player tested positive for the disease. "We have to make the best of the situation. Especially with the knowledge that there are many people who are in a much worse situation than we are due to the current developments," said Niklas Stark, who spoke to us on the phone. The central defender also spoke about the daily routine in isolation, contact with the outside world and sticking together in these difficult times.
herthabsc.de: Nik, first off the most important question of all: How are you doing?
Stark: I’m doing well all things considered thank you. At the moment we have plenty of free time, as much as we’d rather not have it, that we must use to keep ourselves fit. We have to make the best of this situation. Especially with the knowledge that there are many people who are in a much worse situation than we are due to the current developments.
herthabsc.de: Being a sportsman, and being someone of your age, you don’t find yourself in the high-risk group, although young people can also catch the virus. Why is it so important that we act responsibly in the coming weeks and stay at home?
Stark: You’ve answered your own question there! Yes I don’t find myself in a high-risk group, and maybe if I caught the virus the symptoms would be harmless, but there’s a chance they might not. There have been plenty of times where that’s been the case. Above all though, it’s about carrying out your responsibility as a human being to protect other people who may be at risk of harm due to the virus. We can do this by simply staying at home and minimising social contact. I would never want to be responsible for giving someone else the virus. My brother, my parents and I have had plenty of conversations with our grandparents in which we have told them that they need to stay inside. We have to avoid any unnecessary contact.
herthabsc.de: The entire team, including the coaching staff, have been in quarantine for nearly a week now. How do you deal with this situation and what changes have you had to make to daily life?
Stark: I have a feeling we’ve all been subjected to this kind of thing before at least once in our lives, where we have to stay inside. Of course it’s not nice though, you feel a bit trapped. But I can’t say this enough: there are people out there who have it a lot worse than those who have to simply stay at home. If we can help other people by simply changing our behaviour, or limiting ourselves to a few less things, of course we have to do it!
herthabsc.de: What does daily life look like for you at the moment then?
Stark: We all have a fitness plan that we have to keep to. In the morning for example we have to be watching tape and going through our performances. In the past few weeks we were also given an exercise bike by the club so we can do some interval training at home. Of course we would love to be running around outside on the Schenckendorffplatz, but it doesn’t work like that.
herthabsc.de: And when you’re not training, how do you spend your time?
Stark: I’m lucky enough to be quarantined with my girlfriend so I’m not alone. I’ve been cooking a lot more, if you can call what I’ve been doing “cooking”. Other than that it’s been very much like other people’s to be honest, I’ve been watching new series, new films and FaceTiming with my friends and family. On Sunday I facetimed Maxi and Lukas, as well as a few friends from my childhood. Video chats like that really can help.
herthabsc.de: The team developed the “Herthaner-Helfen” programme, which looks to help people who need support, in whatever fashion that may be. As a member of the national team as well, you were part of the squad that donated 2.5 million euros to those in need because of this virus. You’ve also helped other initiatives such as #WeKickCorona with Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich.
Stark: I know what a privileged situation I’m in to be a footballer, so I was clear to me that in times like these I have to make a contribution. The most important thing at the minute is that we all stick together and help everyone out. The medical professionals need help, but also people who work in supermarkets, in the police force, and the fire department - they need help too.
herthabsc.de: No one can say when everything will be back to normal yet, and that especially goes for football. When and if the football season will continue is still up in the air. Have yo given any thought to that?
Stark: Of course I’ve been thinking long and hard about the season continuing. It’s not just football for me, it’s my job. At the end of the day though, there’s not much I can do, the footballing authorities are in close contact with the health organisations to try and see when we can get going again, but we don’t have a date yet. What’s clear though, is that health always comes first and we have to just wait and see what happens, and in the meantime, adhere to the rules and regulations of our government and the authorities. We just have to give everything we can to stay fit.
herthabsc.de: UEFA have now postponed the EUROs until next year, a competition that you were preparing hard for. Do you think that was the right call?
Stark: Yes absolutely, it was necessary and it was the right thing to do. The EUROs could never have taken place in these circumstances, definitely not in the way that previous tournaments have taken place. To go and play without fans in one of the biggest competitions in the world would have been extremely weird for us. In any case, the EUROs hasn’t been cancelled, just postponed a year - I will still have the same targets, they’re just delayed a year.