Football

Behind Closed Doors: Investigating the Financial Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on National League Sides

Matthew Cotter 

Following February’s announcement that Dover Athletic would be forfeiting their remaining National League games, the catastrophic financial effects of the Covid-19 Pandemic on non-league clubs have been propelled into the spotlight.

Examining this, alongside speaking to Maidenhead United CEO Jon Adams, reveals a worrying picture surrounding the current sustainability of non-league football.

The past month has been nothing short of chaotic for clubs in the fifth tier of English football. Since the commencement of the season in October, the Covid-19 Pandemic has shadowed over the league, resulting in postponements and the total elimination of gate receipts.

Despite the news that Dover Athletic would not be fulfilling any upcoming fixtures due to financial hardship, the league overwhelmingly voted against a motion to declare the season ‘null and void’. This, however, has resulted in growing concerns for the stability of many clubs.

Comments made by Dover’s Chairman, Jim Parmenter, show the gravity of the situation. Parmenter described the decision as ‘heart-breaking’ but admitted the club had been running for up to eight weeks without substantial funds.

At the beginning of the season, National League clubs were entitled to financial aid handed out by both The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the National Lottery

King’s Lynn Town owner Steve Cleeve, who voted in favour of the league’s abandonment, echoed Parmenter’s frustrations by claiming that continuing to play the remainder of the season would require the East Anglian club to ‘borrow a huge amount of money’, which the club would struggle to pay back.

At the beginning of the season, National League clubs were entitled to financial aid handed out by both The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the National Lottery. The funding, an estimated £21 million, was to be shared across the National League’s three tiers  meaning, for many clubs, it fell short as sufficient compensation for the losses that occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Maidenhead United CEO Jon Adams was kind enough to discuss the current situation and how his club has been handling the pandemic.

Mr. Adams said, ‘unsurprisingly the last 12 months have been difficult financially for the club’ and whilst the club entered the pandemic in a ‘sound financial position’, he reiterated how challenging the next three to four months will be for National League sides.

 Mr. Adams said the significant loss of matchday revenue ‘has been a major blow to the club’, however, praised the Maidenhead supporters for their loyalty, as many bought season tickets with the knowledge that they would not see their side this season.

On the question of the aforementioned funding, Mr. Adams said the club gratefully received £250k of grant funding from the National Lottery, without which the club ‘would certainly not have been able to proceed’ this season.

However, Mr. Adams said clubs were now in a ‘difficult position’ as the funding from the DCMS has  been offered as loans, rather than previously expected grants. Similarly to King’s Lynn Town’s owner Steve Cleeve, Adams raised concerns over the consequences of accepting such loans.

What was strikingly clear from speaking to Jon however was the desperate desire from clubs for the National League itself to ‘show some leadership and put to bed any uncertainty’

Maidenhead United were scheduled to face Dover in back-to-back reverse fixtures on the 27th February and the 2nd March. Surrounding the announcement that they would be forfeiting the season, Mr. Adams said ‘clearly this is not an ideal situation, but I fully understand the financial challenges many clubs at our level face’.

It was clear Maidenhead United are not considering following Dover’s lead, but Mr. Adams commented that other clubs in the National League were reviewing the option.

What was strikingly clear from speaking to Jon however was the desperate desire from clubs for the National League itself to ‘show some leadership and put to bed any uncertainty’. Yet with no current plan on how to deal with the situation created by Dover, this would seem unlikely.

Looking forward, Mr. Adams made clear that, with the recent guidelines stating no fans will return before the culmination of the 2020/21 season, most clubs within the division will require ‘further financial support’ to combat what will be a highly challenging few months.

The worrying concerns surrounding non-league football are easily missed by the casual Premier League fan. When writing this, what was starkly apparent was the need for fundamental reform to the financial support system across the footballing pyramid.

The hope is that the remaining 22 National League sides can complete the season financially unscathed. In the post-pandemic recovery, more attention will be required to ensure the sustainability of clubs outside the Football League.

Matthew Cotter


 

Featured image used courtesy of Michael Ripley via Flickr. No changes were made to this image. Image use license here.

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