The image above is one that’s disappearing from the football landscape. Not the first casualty from this pandemic and unfortunately unlikely to be the last club to disappear but Droylsden FC will not take part in season 2020/21. There is hope they will reform at a lower level next season, it might only be temporary.
We’ve seen over the past few months clubs resigning from where they are, taking voluntary relegation in order to cut costs and operate at a level they feel comfortable at. These week though it looks a little bit as if things have ramped up a little bit and not for the good of non-league football. On Monday we saw the start reality at National League level with Dover Athletic announcing that without the players accepting a 20% wage cut they will be insolvent by the end of the month, the players have refused and the outlook for the Whites is not looking bright beyond August.
We’ve already seen Barnet make everyone redundant at the very beginning of the pandemic before placing everyone on furlough, I’m sure not all of those have made it back to the club although I am aware some of the 60 originally served notice had contracts due to end once the season was finished. Boreham Wood chairman Danny Hunter re-mortgaged his house to keep the club afloat, that in itself has got to be the extreme to keep the club you love going, with that going on you wonder where it’s going to stop.
FC Romania were another to drop out today although it is believed their committee are trying their upmost to field a team in the Isthmian League South Central this season, some won’t be that lucky. I can imagine there are a few living week to week watching the goalposts moving on a start date knowing they are that one step closer. I hope I am completely wrong, but experience of running a Step 5 club a couple of years ago I can vouch it’s not easy and we had games and a full season!
I originally believed that not just in non-league clubs would go to the wall due to a lack of income and even despite relaxations on paying VAT, players and employee’s put on furlough it’s merely delayed things at league level, advance payments from the Premier League has probably stopped a few going bust but that money was meant for the season’s budget, that has to be accounted for and adjusted or they will face going out of business over the course of this season.
Down in non-league and below the National League level, contracts are not so much in abundance, but the flip side to this is a majority of grassroots level rely on their clubhouses for regular income from the bar and hiring out the facilities and without any of those providing anything since the middle of March many clubs must be struggling despite the amount of grants that have been available to all to help them through this tough period.
Most rely on these areas especially through the close season to help them plan things for the coming few months and supplement the football side. Add to that sponsorship revenues will be down across the board as businesses and individuals struggle to get themselves back on track, some will never open again.
With so much uncertainty if the game will kick off again next month, clubs must now be struggling to plan especially as most if not all are back at least in pre-season training or beginning to play some friendlies in order to be ready. Whilst clubhouses are now allowed to be open, there is no one using them on matchday’s until the DCMS say otherwise, depriving clubs of these income streams they so desperately need.
We know that kicking off without fans will cripple these clubs even more and it’s staggering to see that clubs especially at Steps 5 and 6 can not allow a maximum of say 200 people into their ground considering it’s an outside event. Most won’t get close to that figure, but social distancing can work without hassle at this level. Some more work might be needed to agree on levels for the clubs at Steps 3 and 4, but there’s no reason why it can’t work perfectly well at levels once thought out.
What’s more concerning now is the national picture which looks as if the date will be set back further into October, how many clubs will not be able to survive until then? And then if clubs drop like flies there are going to be some very mismatched numbers across divisions to play out the season.
We may instead even see some clubs merging to stem the flow of losses, either way we’re in for a few interesting weeks with just as many trials and tribulations as we’ve faced over the past couple of months but hopefully less horror stories coming our way.