Time to reward grassroots football

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Here we are, first blog of September! And amid all the financial problems besetting clubs in the Football League, there is a financial issue I feel needs adressing for non-league clubs, prize money in the FA competitions.

There has always been incentives for clubs winning games in the Cup, Trophy and Vase for as long as I can remember and with all the competitions now being sponsored this has increased across the board. In the last couple of years there has been an introduction of a payment for those losing games which extends to the Fourth Qualifying Round in the FA Cup, semi-finals in the FA Trophy and all the way to the final in the FA Vase.

Whilst these payments are to be applauded, there is some disparity around the amounts being paid out. The FA Cup is no longer a priority higher up the food chain, but still commands a few million pounds pay-out should you actually win the cup, an amount club accountants won’t bat at eye lid at. For clubs at grassroots level it can make an absolutely huge difference to their profitability or being able to use the money to repair things around the club that have long been needing fixing or replacing.

Just getting through to the First Qualifying Round can net a Step 5 or 6 club just over £5000, a huge sum for clubs at that level but pocket change for Premier League billionaires. Even losing games at any of those first four rounds can make some kind of difference for these clubs, but that is where it stops.

A win in the Fourth Qualifying round nets you just £36,000, which even for National League clubs won’t leave much profit if any at all after staging that game, costs are probably close or beyond that figure to get the game on, staggering when you consider the money washing through the game.

And when you delve into the prize fund for the Trophy and the Vase, you have to ask yourself is it worth actually entering to gamble on winning money and not making a loss? The prestige for the players of having a chance of playing at Wembley, especially is the Vase, is probably the only thing going for the competitions, true in the case of the Vase. A paltry £60,000 to win the FA Trophy, which if you work out must cost you more to get through to Wembley than you can make. The first couple of rounds after qualifying might be regional but once you go national then it can’t be profitable in any sense.

The FA Vase is even more lopsided! First Qualifying Round winners receive a paltry £550 for winning the game and losers £175, there can’t be many clubs on either side of that amount that make a profit that day. Being involved at Wick FC in Sussex as Secretary last season and now Treasurer I know the costs involved, more I should say losses, and it’s not pretty for either side competing.

I haven’t yet worked out the exact figures for last Saturday but I know already we will run at a loss, and our opponents have to share that loss as per FA Rules, how can a competition explain that you win a game on the pitch but ended up a loser off the pitch? Many of you probably don’t know that the away team have the option of coming by cars or coach with expenses paid for a return trip.

That expense is paid by the home team unless the result of takings on the day plus match officials expenses end up less than the coach cost. If there is a profit, it’s split 50-50 between the clubs in the Trophy and Vase, more to it with the Cup, no problem with that. But, as with a lot of clubs with small attendances that winning team be it either the home side or the away side you can end up a loser off the pitch.

As you head through the rounds of the Vase, it becomes a national draw instead of regional and the cost then increases on clubs that in a lot of cases survive from week to week and month to month and for the club winning at Wembley for just £30,000 is pathetic as I’m sure it will have cost more than that to get through to the final. As it is, the runners-up get only £10,000 less than the winners! Some clubs will strike it lucky and get enough sponsorship or massively increased gates to cover maybe half or all of the cost, but not everyone can manage that.

If the FA truly cared about the grassroots side of our game they would have a long hard look at what is on offer and how it actually impacts clubs. As a business you wouldn’t enter into a deal where you’re going to make a loss, will clubs in the future decide against Vase entry with the logic we can’t afford to take a chance on making a profit? I’m not saying they should hike it up to silly levels which just encourages problems, but there should be an incentive in the prize money levels that make it sustainable for clubs competing, is there any reason why the FA can’t pick up travelling costs for it’s members, after all we pay to enter each of these competitions. It’s something that would make a huge difference to the smaller clubs that make up a big part of our game, but I’m not holding my breath, FA reform is slow but on this occasion they need to find some speed and quickly……….

 

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