‘I feared for the mental state of the boys’: A diary of Perth’s COVID nightmare

What Perth Glory have endured as a football club during COVID is likely unprecedented across the planet. For KEEPUP, Jonathan Aspropotamitis documents what it has been like for Richard Garcia’s squad.

It’s hard to quantify the sheer sense of helplessness, of frustration and of desolation that a single WhatsApp message can bring to a group of people.

December 16 2021 will live long in my memory, and those of 20-odd players and staff at Perth Glory, as the day we were taken effectively into solitary confinement under police escort, and told we would be on our own in hotel quarantine for Christmas.

It was the lowest point in what became a road trip we can tell our grandchildren about, where we hardly knew what twist the next day would bring. COVID has caused misery and disruption for millions of people, but this was our ordeal, and one that in some ways is still playing out.

The revised Isuzu UTE A-League fixtures (kick-off times in AEDT, then local) with Perth Glory finally resuming on Wednesday.

On Wednesday night we can play football again, seven weeks after our last match, and then the fixtures will – we hope – come thick and fast as we try to make up for lost time. It has been a surreal experience, with a quarter of our senior squad training in a different state since before Christmas – not exactly normal routines for an athlete.

But in a COVID world, everybody’s routines take a hammering and now that I can take stock there are some silver linings. Mainly they involve the group of players and coaches we have here at Perth Glory, a collective that was already remarkably close knit even before these last few weeks.

I’m convinced you’ll see over the rest of the season what a strong, united group we have become on the back of a season like nothing I’ve experienced before.

The Glory squad celebrate a goal in a league win on December 5, the second-last fixture Perth would play before descending into a COVID nightmare.


We flew out of WA on November 25 knowing that there was a chance we could end up in quarantine on our return to the state. The road trip that had been mapped out for us was a necessary juggling act of border closures, isolation requirements and COVID rules that changed rapidly.

The theory of it made sense: go to Victoria for three games, spend four days in Adelaide as a buffer to allow us quarantine-free entry to Queensland for a game, back to Adelaide to play once more and then home on Christmas Eve having been out of Victoria for the required 14 days.

But we didn’t go into it blind; our head coach, Richard Garcia, had spelt out to the players that there were no guarantees that something wouldn’t go wrong in such a volatile situation. And yet Gars had also put plans in place to make it a trip to enjoy, and they worked.

We had a spell living in a hotel in Doha last year with the Asian Champions League, as well as quarantine after a trip to Melbourne and various hubs in Sydney, and I think he learnt from all those.

It was little touches, like not having to wear Glory-branded gear around the hotel. At home we’d leave training and put on civvies; it allows you to feel off-duty and relax. Likewise, meals in the hotel were non-compulsory; if we had friends in Melbourne to meet, or just wanted to explore, we didn’t have to race back for team bowls of pasta.

Gars was very deliberate about making it as normal as possible.  He told us: obviously be sensible, be professional, but I trust you guys to do the right thing. And in my opinion, and the opinion of a lot of the boys, that helped us so much to really get through what was in store for us and come out of it really strong.

Even when we lost our first game narrowly to Western United – and the less said about VAR in that game, the better – it didn’t knock morale.

As it sank in that this wasn’t just a normal away game, and we had weeks ahead of us on the road, the feeling was to give it a real red-hot crack. In the week leading into playing Melbourne Victory, the mindset was, let’s see what we can get out of this. We know that we’re here to win games and play good football but also let’s experience what it’s like to live with each other, let’s get to know each other a little bit better. Let’s sit at different tables at dinner and lunch.

When you’re around certain individuals for so long, it’s easy to get pissed off with one another. But that never happened. It never got to a point where we were agitated with each other. And we beat Victory 3-0 on their own turf.

Aspropotamitis smothers Nick D’Agostino in Perth’s impressive road win over Victory.


After a while, you hit a routine in travelling. We moved efficiently from Victoria to SA, trained for a few days, packed up and moved on to Brisbane. Spirits were very good, even after a narrow loss to Melbourne City. Even a medical emergency on the flight to Brisbane didn’t cause too many dramas. And then all hell broke loose.

We were sitting having breakfast on Thursday December 16 when the roommate of Pacifique Niyongabire walked in looking worried, and told us that Pacifique had COVID-like symptoms. It wasn’t long since we’d all had clear PCR tests, but a rapid-antigen test showed up as a weak positive. Within hours, Pacifique had returned a positive PCR test, and our group was in turmoil.

The advice the club was getting seemed to be changing by the hour, and that’s not meant as a criticism. Each state is having to react to unprecedented events, and adapt the rules up as situations change. We were told that from noon we’d be confined to our rooms, so naturally we all went for coffee first, then spent the afternoon in our rooms watching the Ashes.

We knew that in the background there were frantic debates going on about whether we were close or casual contacts, and what that meant, but I think deep down we thought things would sort themselves out. We all had PCR tests and waited, until at 6pm the bombshell came.

On the team WhatsApp group, our head of football operations, Terry McFlynn, told us to pack quickly as we would be transferring to another hotel to go into quarantine. For 14 days.

It was a massive shock, and the seriousness of the process didn’t help; we got called out in pairs, escorted onto a bus, and taken individually to our rooms. When the door shut behind me, I really began to feel the gravity of the situation.

In the group there was a lot of disbelief. Some of the boys were convinced it was some sort of prank or a joke. I feared for the mental state of a lot of the boys and the staff because they’re just weren’t in a good frame of mind at that point.

Some players struggled with how arbitrary it was for this to happen in Queensland where the close-contact isolation was 14 days, unlike other states. Plenty of players have kids, as well as wives and other families, and were distraught about the prospect of being in iso on Christmas Day.

It was a series of recurring questions on the group chat: how has this happened, through no one’s fault? How long until we can play again? What will be the effect on us? I can’t imagine what the coaches and the staff were going through, making contingency plans and scrambling.

Gars mentioned in the media a few times that the mental side of things was a concern for each player and it was. You’re asking, how’s my body going to feel coming out of quarantine? Shit, I’ve just lost all my momentum, we’ve played all those games and then this?


December 21 was the day Christmas came early. The Queensland government agreed that we could leave quarantine after seven days, in conjunction with the WA government agreeing to let us go back to Perth after those seven days so long as we were tested and did a further week in home quarantine. In the circumstances, that felt like the biggest win any of us could imagine.

For everybody at the club who was at that hotel in Brisbane, words cannot describe the relief of learning that we’d be in home quarantine rather than being in a hotel for Christmas. We know how hard the club worked for us, and the APL in putting on a charter flight back to Perth.

It meant we were back in Perth on Christmas Day, with the WA sun on our faces. From Boxing Day we got stuck into Zoom fitness sessions until we could get out of home quarantine, and since then we’ve been through what is effectively a mini pre-season to get our conditioning back up.

Photo credit: Estybsphoto
Photo credit: Estybsphoto
Photo credit: Estybsphoto

By the time you read this we’ll be back on the road, having not played since December 8. It’s an unparalleled situation for a team in world football, thanks to Australia’s unique state set-up, and a huge disadvantage.

But we’ve talked at length about this as a group. We can sulk and kick stones, or make a virtue of the solidarity what we’ve been through. With so many home games to come, we’ll have hardly any travel, and if we can go on a run it’ll be quite spectacular.

But the only focus now is our first game back, after a saga I wouldn’t wish on anyone.