Liam Henderson, former Hibs and Celtic midfielder, opens up on life under lockdown in Italy

Scot is still being put through his paces in Italy

Liam Henderson in action for Empoli in a Serie B match against Pisa n February

Former Celtic and Hibs midfielder Liam Henderson has warned the UK population to listen to intructions regarding social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The 23-year-old is now in his third season in Italian football, having turned out for Bari and Hellas Verona before joining Serie B side Empoli on loan in January.

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Italy has been hit hard by the spread of COVID-19 and the country has been on strict lockdown orders since March 9.

People in UK ‘need to realise how serious this is’

Similar measures were put in place in the UK this week, limiting the amount of time people should spend outside or in groups. Despite that, there are still individuals flouting the guidelines, and Henderson insists that the population needs to start listening.

Speaking to The Athletic, he said: “I can understand why people want to go to work. Because they can’t afford not to go to work.

“And when my mum, who’s a nursery school teacher, says that children go to school and rely on it for a hot meal and to get fed and there’s the prospect of that being disrupted, it is going to have a massive impact on thousands and thousands.

“I don’t think the UK realises how serious it’s going to be. From my experience here, you have to just listen and do what you’re told to do.”

In terms of his own job, Henderson is still being put through his paces by Empoli’s fitness staff with some sessions conducted remotely in his apartment.

Each morning he checks his temperature before undergoing a rigorous workout.

Talking through his programmes, he explained: “The first 10 minutes was a bit of stretching, some yoga. Just to work on your mobility.

“Then we got the chair out and did some split squats. You go up and down so you’re working your core, your glutes and your hamstrings. Then we did some lunges where you jump and change legs for explosiveness.

“Yesterday was more core-based. Planks, side-planks, sit-ups, press-ups.”

Lockdown hitting close to home

The midfielder is also attending one-on-one running sessions at Empoli’s training ground with the club’s sports science staff, where he does a mix of sprinting and longer runs.

Henderson admits that he misses the smattering of older fans who normally congregate to watch the training sessions; the strict lockdown measures keeping them indoors for their own safety,

“It’s completely closed off [now]. You don’t see anybody at all,” he said. You see the same faces everyday, it’s usually the old boys who have bought their Gazzetta dello Sport, they’ve had their coffee and smoked their cigarettes, and they turn up to watch the training.

“It’s class. In Bari I loved the fact when I went out you’d see the old boys just playing cards or dominoes with a glass of wine or beer, smoking away to their life’s content, not a care in the world. I was thinking to myself, ‘that’s what I’d like to be when I’m their age’.”

On an official level, Empoli chiefs are keeping the players informed with the latest government advice through the club's WhatsApp group. On top of that, Henderson is required to have his passport and a signed police document on him at all times when driving to and from the training ground and stadium.

To be able to leave his flat and drive to and from the training ground and the Castellani, Henderson must have his passport on him at all times as well as a signed police form certifying he is travelling for proven work needs.

“I haven’t been stopped yet but I have to take one out with me because if the police pull you over they can fine you and give you a criminal charge. It’s a bit extreme. But if it keeps people at home for the certain amount of time that’s needed, then it’s what you need to do.”

What next?

At the time of writing, there is no clear indication on when football’s indefinite hiatus may end. Some clubs, including Empoli, played games behind closed doors – “like a pre-season friendly; I’d never want to do that again” – but with ten games left to play and Italy’s football chiefs hopeful of resuming the season in May, Henderson is sceptical.

“If you asked me personally, I can’t see the season being finished anytime in the next three months.

“I’ve been trying to keep my mind active, thinking about after football, managerial stuff, noting down wee bits and bobs, what I’ve learned from my managers over the years, what formation I’d play, my philosophy, playing the youth and stuff. I’m definitely going to enrol and do my badges.

“I did the ‘stay at home challenge’ the other day with the toilet roll. I got nominated for that so I did it, but it’s not the same. I miss the ball.”

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