The latest change in the restrictions could sound the end for many non-league clubs over the course of the next few weeks and definitely months. Less than 24 hours after it was announced clubs were already beginning to make noises to suggest this latest change could mean closure for some.
Clubs at Steps 3-6 have been fortunate to have fans attending their matches since the beginning of September and currently appear to exempt from the news rules coming into force this week although most are aware that can change at a moment’s notice.
The National League who are due to start their season a week on Saturday have once again been told no fans will be attending their matches due the ‘elite’ status placed upon them. It is no different right to the very top and whilst financial blows can be absorbed at the top end of the game, there is little to share around the further down the pyramid you go.
Whilst there maybe a handful of clubs at non-league’s top level who could survive for a short while, the consensus is the majority cannot. Fans being inside grounds are the lifeblood for all non-league clubs, that ship has sailed from the top table and while grounds are soulless in the Premier League gate receipts are mere pocket change but the atmosphere is the game changer.
It’s not just getting the fans inside grounds it’s also the food outlets and bars that provide much needed revenue for all clubs and without being able to open those places for hire income streams are still very much marginalised and they need people in them just as much as ticket sales.
The loss of any club will have far reaching implications on a wider scale than just a football club disappearing. Jobs will be lost at each club, businesses who supply them and those around some of the grounds will see a drop in income as we are seeing in cities across the country with people not returning to work.
The mental health aspect of shutting everything down once again will tip a lot of people over the edge and once things re-open again, will there be much to re-open afterwards? I don’t want this to get too political as it’s about football but there are more far-reaching consequences this time around.
I’ve been to around 10 games since the beginning of the month from Steps 4-6 and each one has been different in its approach inside the ground. I was expecting it to be in all honesty, whilst all clubs can undertake a Covid review of an empty ground, policing it all is a different matter. Volunteers run these clubs, not business owners and those of you and I who attend games know there isn’t a huge abundance of volunteers coming forward for any club.
Some grounds have been set out well, others don’t have the ability for separate entrances and exits, and they’re not exactly going to be able to build one in a matter of weeks if there is actually room to do so. Clubs are doing this to the best of their ability and are very much reliant on common sense being applied by most if not all. We all know 100% compliance is going to be a struggle with a minority, but with transmission being lower outside is the risk higher or not?
The first club to fall is likely to cause a domino effect and the question then becomes where will it stop? Dover Athletic were on the brink before making some huge cuts to try to remain sustainable, its being reported they are two weeks from closure if fans are not watching games at the season start on 3rd October inside their Crabble ground. Other clubs in the National League South are also making noises about the same kind of thing, it’s not going to be isolated incidents.
Some clubs I believe are asking if they can ‘mothball’ their season, but what happens if half of them want to and the others want to play on to recoup wages they’ve already agreed to pay for a year? It is going to be very dangerous territory for all to step onto over the next few days and weeks and I for one am glad it’s not me that needs to be making decisions.
600 fans allowed in NL stadiums as per the current guidelines for Steps 3-6 is more manageable with stewards and more room for social distancing to be comfortably observed than for clubs at the lower level and more importantly while it’s not a huge amount of people it gives clubs a little bit of a base to build upon, without it your club, my club, your mates club might not be here to see 2021……………