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………

Pie and a pint for your money

Sunday’s Non-League paper has pulled up a great debate via the Tony Incenzo column and one that has a lot of mileage. If you haven’t heard of Tony he has an incredible record of non-league games attended at many levels all whilst working for talkSPORT covering his beloved QPR.

His column at the weekend centred on ways to get some new fans into non-league football and keeping them there. Of course, there will always be those who have a side they go and watch or follow when their Premier League or Football League are away, I don’t think some of those are for converting.

But, there are over the next few months and possibly years many who will start to find themselves priced out of the top end of the game as personal finances get squeezed even tighter. I found that years ago although I’ve been watching non-league football since before the age of ten, that affording a day out at the top level was rising more than my wages and so sometimes you have to make a choice.

Non-league won, I was still watching football and I wasn’t burning a hole in my finances every week. This pandemic will hit the average person hard for a while and as Tony remarked it’s a good time to get people into our clubs and spending what to them would be less money, but to some clubs a small fortune per person.

At non-league level, you get remembered, respected more and in a lot of ways thought of. Most inside the grounds and clubs are volunteers, doing it for the love of the game and the club inside their community and that community is so much more important now to ensure we don’t lose any more clubs whilst we come out the other end of this tough time.

The debate comes in the form of how to market clubs to see how attractive they are to watch a game of football. A pricing structure was proposed for Step 5 and 6 of £10 based upon entry of £5 or £6 to include a drink and a pie. Now I’ve been to Step 5 games twice this side of lockdown where the admission was £8 and £7, Step 6 £6 entry for the games at that level.

So, you add in a pint £3 and a pie (best guess here) £2, possibly more and clubs at Step 6 would be losing £1 on each person who comes in for that so that would need tweaking. Step 5 would be losing £4 or £5 per person so in principle the idea is good but the logistics of the finances needs some work.

Could the admission price be reduced as part of the deal? Well, that is an option, but does the person who only wants to watch, pays his admission and then decides at half time he does want some food or a drink will they feel they are getting as good a deal?

National League at £25 is a great price for this deal, take for example last season a seat at Barnet was £24 in the Legends Stand so to get a drink and food for £25 makes a bargain for the supporter, but a loss for the club unless they source their materials at much lower prices and I feel that across the pyramid all clubs charge differently and throw in their own incentives that maybe work better for them.

What if you prefer a burger or a hotdog instead of a pie? Will that make things a bit messy trying to do changes pricewise? Is a drink classified as a soft drink or alcoholic?

I might be picking holes a bit in this, but clubs need to make a profit on it not a loss and at all levels there are huge differences. I do however think it’s an idea on the right lines but needs more work doing to make it attractive to both the supporter and the club. It might to hard to work it across all steps at the same price with different admission pricing quite evident at grounds but it’s a project to get behind and I think that once fans are allowed in at all levels of non-league football it’s something that can be put together and out to the public in double quick time, another campaign brewing?