Sort the mess before we start losing clubs

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………

Fans and Money

21st August. The date Nigel Huddleston of the DCMS Department received a letter from 41 MP’s asking when National League clubs will be allowed to admit fans in once again.

I know there is some healthy debate to this scenario with this ‘elite’ tag and some arguing that with the National League going ahead with their play-offs that they should be treated the same as the EFL clubs, but is that going to sustain these clubs going forward?

As we’ve now seen on Monday evening via the brilliant Ollie Bayliss the DCMS have said no different from fans returning to stadiums from the 1st October and applications made I presume by the FA and National League have been submitted for test pilot events. I would hope these test events are scheduled as soon as they can be in order for clubs to get themselves ready to go.

I believe that despite clubs managing to survive through the lean months with no income and this includes the lower two EFL divisions that worse is yet to come, some of that might and I stress might be avoided if capacities are used to determine the amount of fans allowed per ground rather than a ‘one size fits all’ as they for Steps 3-6, I hope I am completely wrong, but some of that money has been used to cover some of the summer months from advances, careful budgeting is going to have to be the norm.

But there is some good news which was announced in the middle of last week, the creation of the Matchday Support Fund of which financial help comes from the Premier League. If you’ve missed it, it stretches from Step 1 down to Step 6 with a maximum of £20,000 available to top clubs and £2,000 to the lowest level. When at a game this past weekend we were remarking about the game being awash with too much cash in the top-flight and none of it making its way down to help those who need just a little bit to get by.

It’s great news to read of it and it’s been welcomed by clubs in Sunday’s Non-League Paper, but it must be ensured this is available every year for all clubs regardless of what happens in the future. The full amount if every club applies for the grant is pocket change to the 20 top clubs and they can afford to do this, maybe even raise the bar and up the totals year on year, that remains to be seen.

There are stipulations as to what it can be spent on, how that is policed I have no idea unless they ask for some kind of photographic evidence? The link for any club officials reading this is www.footballfoundation.org.uk and is open until Wednesday 16th September for applications.

There are clubs who are already on the ball and it’s definitely going a small way to help out with those costs involved with making grounds Covid-19 compliant. If it is available every year then it is set apart from clubs needing to match grants for any projects they want to undertake, it must however always be ring-fenced to stop it being used just to pay someone an extra £50 a week and as time goes on I expect the system to be more robust to stop that happening.

Money makes the world go round, money makes football go round, but the hope is we’re seeing smiles and laughs at grounds before long while money is making the tills ring, the former is important to make the latter work…………

Time to make a stand

Scrolling through Twitter on Monday morning as I normally would be, checking the latest going’s-on from all four corners of the footballing world and one tweet in particular caught my eye and that was before I saw the above slogan.

Dorking Wanderers, a club I hold in high regard for the way Marc White has built his club into the National League South, popped a tweet up last night around 7.19 which I caught this morning on the back of another tweet from the superb Ollie Bayliss. I’ll link the tweet in below, in short it’s asking why the FA have been unable to explain to the Government’s DCMS how different life is in non-league football compared to those in the professional game and with it the slogan #letfansin .

The tweet from Ollie Bayliss eluded to the fact non-league clubs have been without income for five months and I must give credit to those who’ve kept these clubs going with nothing coming in. I’ve been there in a Step 5 club and I know how hard it is when money is just about in the till or the bank, these guys and girls have done fantastically to limit how many clubs have had to take a breather or fold completely and a huge majority on a volunteer basis.

Throughout Monday I’ve seen more and more clubs coming on board with this and as I write #LetFansIn is trending on Twitter just outside the top 20, it’s been as high as fourth and huge credit has to go to @forthefansshop on Twitter for getting this started and the momentum it has already generated is huge, but it must get bigger over the next few days and get opinion and decisions changed.

As non-league fans, players and club officials, even league officers, we know that to have us in a ground is perfectly possible, socially distanced and without drama. Why is it we can shop wherever we want with little or no restrictions compared to three months ago but we can’t attend a non-league football match? Why is it we can have thousands of people at the beach but not 100-200 people socially distanced at a football match? It’s not consistent and it needs to move in line.

Twenty-two players plus substitutes and coaching staff can play a pre-season friendly with no covid-19 tests for them, so where is the difference not having supporters there? We can sit inside a theatre without a mask on our faces amongst fellow people, but we can’t watch a game outside where transmission is less or virtually non-existent.

To me none of this makes sense whichever way you look at it, clubs have been carrying out work to make sure grounds are covid-secure, the best time to test it is now in pre-season, not waiting until it begins and then we have problems, too short-sighted and that is where the FA have fallen down.

Their lack of input into putting a case across that shouts ‘we are ready’ is harming the game at grassroots level and putting the futures of a lot of the members they are supposed to be looking after in grave doubt. I must admit I was expecting non-league to really suffer to survive through a tough few months, maybe that’s still to come, I hope it isn’t and everyone makes it out the other side, but without income coming into each and every one of these clubs there is a big fear more clubs will simply disappear.

Every club needs their clubhouse open not just during the week but when a game is on, every club needs fans coming through the turnstiles spending their money just to survive, this isn’t the Premier League where money is given for finishing 17th in the division, this is real life. These clubs are the heart of their communities, where the FA Cup still matters and the Vase gives hope you can reach Wembley, the stuff dreams are made of.

I would love to see every single club and every MP to get behind this campaign before the loss of clubs like Droylsden are being seen every week, put some pressure on the FA and the government to deliver, after all we’ve listened to and obeyed the rules in most cases for the good of the country during the lockdown, now it’s time to give a little bit back and in a lot of cases improve the mental health of so many people struggling to come to terms with such a change of life, its time to make a stand……………

#LetFansIn

@DorkingWDRS

@Ollie_Bayliss

@forthefansshop