There were emotional and uplifting scenes at Vicarage Road this afternoon as NHS staff gathered to thank Watford FC employees and volunteers for their help and support during the coronavirus pandemic as the club starts to prepare in earnest for the return of the Premier League next month.

West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust had appealed for staff to gather in the Rookery Stand to thank the Hornets for their kindness and generosity and hundreds took up the opportunity to Clap For The Club, including many who visited the ground to show their appreciation when they were not working.

Watford offered the use of their ground to the neighbouring hospital at the end of March and since then it has helped provide a sanctuary for NHS staff to relax as the Covid-19 crisis continues, as well as providing a temporary home for many services.

Trust chairman Phil Townsend explained Watford will continue to accommodate some of these – such as maternity and counselling services – but the Hornets will no longer be providing breakfast and lunch for staff after today.

Approaching 50,000 meals have been provided by the club and Mr Townsend was quick to acknowledge the scale of that commitment.

He told the Watford Observer: “We had a partnership because we’re next door neighbours, we’ve used the occasional room, we’ve had conversations about future plans etc, but the crisis threw that into a different relationship altogether.

“They genuinely came to us with idea after idea of things they could do for us, each of them was well accepted, well wanted and the food run – that’s a huge commitment.

“Giving a few rooms away, that’s nice, but to do the food service on the basis that they’ve done it, the length of time that they’ve done it with the amount of staff and the variety of choice that they’ve done it, that’s a huge commitment.”

While the club has helped the hospital logistically by providing rooms and other services including washing scrubs, it is the emotional benefits that Mr Townsend values most.

He said: “Could we have managed without (the club’s help)? Probably, but it’s the mechanics versus the emotional lift.

“Could we have got things washed somewhere? Could we have got more food? Yes. Would it have been painful as a process? Yes. Would it have provided somewhere for the staff to easily access without really changing their routines, to walk across and enjoy that solitude and that big open space…?

“When you’ve been on a ward wearing full PPE (personal protective equipment), which I challenge anybody to do for more than five minutes, you do it for a shift. But stepping out, being able to take all that off and then coming to have a cup of coffee or a bite to eat, that’s a huge emotional lift.

“It builds resilience in people and helps them see the whole process through, so from that perspective it would have been hard to cope without it.”

Watford are due to return to Premier League action over the weekend of June 19 to 21, subject to it being safe to do so, after clubs agreed on a date to resume the season yesterday following its suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.