‘Virtual’ chip buttys and matchday tickets – how some non-league clubs are attempting to seek fans’ help in avoiding financial ruin
Non-league clubs up and down the country have been appealing to supporters to help keep them financially viable during the coronavirus crisis.
Like many small businesses, they are facing an uncertain future with the double whammy of no matchday income or being able to rent their facilities out to the local community for use.
Alfreton Town chairman Wayne Bradley said: “We’re in a fairly modest financial state but a lot of other clubs are in a very different position.“There’s never been a level playing field. In the same way that the virus itself is a big threat to people with underlying health issues, you could apply that to football clubs and businesses too.“We’ve met our PAYE obligations for March and our staff will also be paid what they’re entitled to this month.“It gets more complicated after that given we have no income stream from matches, gate receipts and so on and it’ll be harder to meet our financial commitments.”
Gainsborough Trinity chairman Richard Kane said: “Wages were paid in full last week, but in the absence of any additional income, we see no alternative than to suspend all wages to employees, forthwith.
“Without a shadow of doubt, the football club will pursue each funding initiative as it becomes operational and hope to pay the outstanding wages, if and when the funds materialise.
“The club's board of directors will do whatever it takes to ensure the future health and survival of our proud football club.”
Most of the top local non-league clubs have yet to ask fans direct for financial help, but elsewhere it is a different story.
Northern Premier League club Hyde United are selling 'virtual pies' and 'virtual chip buttys' as they call on supporters to support the club in any way they can during the coronavirus pandemic.
A virtual matchday ticket is £10 and a virtual serving of ‘Judith’s Chicken Soup and a Roll’ is £2. A virtual chip butty is £2.50.
“Please support us with what you can afford during this difficult time,” a club statement said.
National League North club AFC Telford have asked for donations to help keep them club afloat.
“All of our income streams have fallen from their normal level to virtually zero overnight,” a statement read.
“Our loss of income will be well into six figures and we await news from the National League on what financial compensation we will receive from the various football sources that they are exploring.
“All the very material off the field cost savings we have made in recent years help us to an extent, but not to the level of getting through this complete collapse in our income streams.
“With the future being very uncertain, the football club does need financial help in the coming days, weeks and months.”
Telford are still offering fans early bird season tickets for the 2020/21 season, while sponsorship and advertising opportunities remain available and the club shop is selling items via Ebay.
Chairman Andy Pryce said: “If there is any way you are still able to help the football club this would help greatly in these unprecedented times.”
Southern League Central clubs Didcot Town and Bedford Town - who play at the same level of the pyramid as step three club Gosport - have also appealed for financial help.
A Didcot statement said: “The club has been forced to make significant cutbacks already but with no expected income the club simply can’t afford to survive much longer.
“The town’s football club has been in existence since 1907, and right now it faces the biggest threat to its survival.
“We are asking any current or potential new sponsors, investors, supporters or anyone with an interest in maintaining football in Didcot with viable fundraising ideas to get in contact with the club urgently.
“We are at the point of immediate action being required so that Didcot Town FC as we know it can survive ... without a significant cash injection we will not be able to do so.
“The very future of the town’s football club is in the balance now and we desperately need your help.”
Bedford Town, meanwhile, have opened up a donations page to their online ticket store.
A club statement said: “The hope is that supporters, where able, will continue to donate what they would have spent on a match day (whether it be admission, programmes, bar, food etc.)
“If a number of individuals do this, it will ease the growing issue the club have of not generating any income at present.”
Bedford owner Jon Taylor said: “It’s vital that supporters continue to support the club during this difficult time.
“Bills are still requiring to be paid and our contracted players are still due for payment despite the suspension of fixtures.
“Anything that supporters feel able to give would be much appreciated.’
Another Southern Premier League Central club, Hitchin Town, also have huge fears.
“I have been treasurer of Hitchin for over 40 years and have seen the club face more than one financial crisis in that time but the current uncertainty is possibly the greatest challenge,” Roy Izzard said.
“With football now suspended we have obviously lost match-day income which is still absolutely critical to our finances. Another real worry is the fact that the coronavirus will obviously impact on our sponsors.
“Their profitability will be taking a significant blow and if they have to analyse their costs they’re unlikely to consider sponsorship of a football club a necessity.
“We also face ongoing costs at a time when there is no income. Utilities still have to be paid including our rent and the end of season renovation work on the pitch will have to be paid.
“Various subscriptions and leasing agreements have to be paid, as does our insurance.
“How do we begin to budget for next season when we have no idea when non-league football will resume and with all the financial uncertainties hanging over us?”
Amidst all the current concerns and uncertainty - both in terms of finances and promotion and relegation issues - one non-league club chairman is hoping the pyramid might be ‘in a better place’ when the Covid-19 crisis eventually fades and normal life resumes.
Phil Lines - chairman of Southern League Central club Banbury - said: “I’ve told some board members that when this is all over non-league football might be in a better place for the future.
“Players may have to lower their wage demands on clubs and that would help every club.
“Most clubs are sensible with their budget, like ours, but some pay out too much and they’re the ones who were panicking as soon as the first games were postponed.
“Too many clubs live hand-to-mouth, week-to-week.
“When I was playing for Banbury United the attendances were much bigger than today but the wages were smaller by comparison.
“Now it’s a fine balance between staying within a sensible budget and having to pay out a bit more to try and win more games.”
As well as keeping the financial wolves from the door, some non-league clubs could be poised to take legal action against the FA if they are denied a potentially lucrative promotion if the season is declared null and void.
But lofty Northern Premier League club FC United of Manchester won’t be one of them.
Showing an admirable attitude, the club formed by a group of Manchester United supporters disgruntled with the Glazer takeover at Old Trafford in 2004, said. “We will accept any decision that the league reaches.”
Had the season continued, FC would probably have enjoyed home advantage in the end-of-season play-offs and would have been considered favourites to return to the National League North at the first time of asking.
“With the history of the club, there is a wider perspective,” commented Sam Mullock, FC’s deputy chair.
“Fans used to say every time we kick-off is a victory. Just having our own football club is victory enough.
“Success on the pitch is not everything for us. And we're absolutely not going to be fighting for a particular outcome which favours us in the league.
“I think the leagues need to be left in peace, to think about the issues and come to us with a fair way forward.”
But will the leagues be ‘left in peace’?