If you thought 2020 was the year to keep knocking you about, 2021 is looking like not being a lot better for us non-league football fans. Whilst at Steps 3-6 we await the clubs conferring as to whether null and void for the second season is going to be an overwhelming majority verdict Steps 1 and 2 which comprise the National League found out on Monday that their next round of funding could cause a catastrophe.
Having received around £10 million in Lottery funding to complete the first three months of the season, the DCMS has indicated to the National League that the £11 million due to follow is now going to be made up in the form of loans and not grants.
National League clubs were under the impression that to play out this season without fans they would be funded or compensated whichever way you look at it, to ensure every club would survive, but it appears that was a promise made which is now broken.
The wonderful coverage provided by Ollie Bayliss and Thomas Feaheny has added a few extra parts to this. A board meeting for the National League is due in the next few days, no doubt a few club owners demanding answers with the very future of their clubs at stake.
The DCMS have been informed that should the season finish now the cost of furlough for players and staff would actually exceed the cost of making this payment in grants by nearly £3 million, so the maths do not add up, not something I’m surprised at.
Who in their right mind will accept a loan for their club knowing full well there is no set timetable on income once again flowing through a National League football club? This is the same notion they are putting onto clubs in Steps 3-6, take a loan to stay afloat, but we can’t promise you can have fans back in a reasonable timeframe so tough luck!
I know full well having spoken to people inside the three divisions there is a lack of regular Covid testing due to the cost of funding it, now they are being asked to keep playing whilst saddled with a debt to stay solvent or close to it but not an ounce of knowing how different things will become to allow them to return that cash, it’s an impossible situation.
As with clubs being consulted at Steps 3-6 there will split camps of those wanting to continue the season at some point and those would be happy to stop it now and prepare ready for next season.
I can’t see this being any different at National League level to be honest, clubs that have kept a budget high will want to continue in order to get the promotion they want, those who have either cut their cloth accordingly and want to remain on an even-ish keel would likely want to suspend or end the season and then of course those whose season hasn’t panned out so far will be happy to call a halt and get themselves mothballed until a new season can begin.
Just last week 12 National League North clubs called the DCMS to ‘not betray the trust of clubs’ over funding agreements, it clearly appears that is the case. As shown throughout the whole season so far the DCMS have no idea how money works at this level and how clubs fund themselves through fans in stadiums spending money on secondary income.
As we know clubs at this level are not blessed with TV money and huge sponsorship deals and there were some back in September and October who were close to not starting the season, these club are not in any better shape now than they were then, it’s the funding and in some cases deep pockets keeping them alive.
If the National League board are guilty of these false promises then I wouldn’t be surprised to see calls for a few resignations to come in the next few days having failed their member clubs.
Bigger than that the next few weeks could see a lot of clubs contemplating what the future actually holds for them now, those that can and will survive might decide voluntary relegation is an option just to keep their club alive albeit at a lower level reducing expenses against the backdrop of continued no incoming money.
No club deserves to disappear, no supporter should lose their club during these times, but weak leadership is seen everywhere from the DCMS through the FA to the National League, it was only in this weekend’s Non-League Paper Tony Incenzo was remarking how we have gotten to this stage having lost a very small number of clubs during this period, action needs to be taken now before it becomes a huge great roll-call………