With every industry in the country being affected football was no different, with teams at the very bottom in non-divisions being affected the worst as I found out first hand after speaking with a player and club representative from Northern Premier League – West side Ramsbottom United.
Whilst teams at the very top of the pyramid were still seeing television payments coming in to their club and their competitions continuing as normal, there was little for them to be concerned about from a financial perspective. Indeed, they were assured they would still be receiving payments at the end of the season. This gave the clubs some sort of security and allowed them to start putting things in place for the next season as they knew they would still have at least a set amount coming in at the end of the year.
The EFL also shared some of this security with their season still being allowed to continue. Although the EFL rely on gate receipts much more than the Premier League clubs they managed to strike deals to receive payments from the Premier League and their clubs. However, club’s step six and below had to go without, as their seasons were null and voided for two consecutive seasons. Ramsbottom midfielder Eddie Cooper told me “there were players still getting paid because they were on contracts so that was a big thing because they didn’t cancel (void) the league for a long time. So, all the players that were on contracts were still getting paid but all them clubs weren’t earning any money.” This was crippling for the clubs as they had no way of recouping this money due to no games being able to take place and therefore no fans coming through the gates and support their clubs.
This unprecedented and unexpected nightmare situation even resulted with some teams having to withdraw from their respective leagues and others even ceasing to exist. This happened to teams all over the country such as: FC Oswestry Town, Shankhouse FC, NKF Burbage, Swanwick Pentrich Road FC and so many more. Many of these teams had rich histories with a couple of them being founding members of their leagues as well as some of them being founded in the 1800’s.
In a time when these smaller clubs were crying out for help Tony Cunningham, Ramsbottom United’s Club Secretary told me that, “we received nothing from the FA; but financial assistance from the government via Bury MBC”. Despite the FA and EFL working in conjunction to try and secure the 72 football league teams funding, they were unable to help teams in the non-league pyramid. It was in fact the Government’s furlough scheme that was keeping these clubs alive. This money from the government paid playing and management staff who were on contracts alongside helped to pay contracted staff members at clubs.
Despite some of the clubs not having too many full-time staff on the pay roll this money was still able help them pay for the groundsmen to maintain the ground whilst not in use. It was also used to maintain club’s presence on their social media platforms, keeping their fans feeling involved with their club despite not being able to go and watch them week in week out.
The main problem for Ramsbottom United, as it was for a lot of teams was the “curtailing of the season” Tony Cunningham told me. This was because for many clubs they were in such positive positions in both of the seasons that were null and voided. Although in the second season teams were promoted and relegated on an expected points per game basis. This crushed the hearts of many at Ramsbottom as it meant that they missed out on promotion by 0.03 points.
Ramsbottom, much like a lot of other teams in the non-league pyramid set up a Gofundme page to try and recover some of the finances that had been lost during the covid pandemic. The club were encouraging people to try and donate the price of the gate receipts that they hadn’t had to pay due to the games being cancelled or the money that they may have spent on a pie and a pint at the half time break. They were almost pleading with supporters by saying that they were scrambling for funds to ensure that they weren’t affected on or off the pitch for the season coming up.
Ramsbottom, along with other clubs made it clear throughout the pandemic that the sponsors of their league had to try and help them wherever possible. Clubs were asking for the league sponsors to help them to drum up new support when the season restarted and they were also asking if they could help the teams to find more volunteers to help them be ready and fully compliant for a Covid safe restart. The clubs needed more volunteers especially on match days due to them having to carry out temperature checks on the gate as people entered the ground and having to ensure that social distancing guidelines were being followed at all times.
The future remains uncertain for everybody and the clubs of non-league are no different. If anything, they face graver risk as covid remains so problematic. However, it is most definitely reassuring to see how well these clubs have been able to deal with the problems that they have already faced. Tony Cunningham told me “It has been a pleasure to resume normal duties with very little restrictions this season, and providing there are no more lockdowns we are hopeful of completing this season and moving forward in a normal fashion.”
From a player’s perspective Eddie Cooper also told me that “I don’t think that anybody’s budget would have gone up, a lot would have probably gone down, so then obviously it’s if the lads are going to stay for less money which I think a lot our lads would”.
Non-League football plays a huge and important part in people’s lives and we can only pray that covid doesn’t destroy its future.
Article originally published here: