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‘Don’t betray our trust’ ask non-league clubs of Government

The Government is facing growing calls from National League clubs to provide ongoing pandemic support in the form of grants, rather than the loans that have been promised under the Government’s Sports Winter Survival Package. Rather than become further indebted to play matches behind closed doors, there’s a growing fear that clubs could refuse to complete the season at the top levels of non-league as a result.

In a statement released last week, 12 National League North clubs laid out the issues facing clubs as a result of the losses incurred completing the season while pandemic restrictions continue.

The statement, from clubs including fan-owned Chester and Darlington, said: “When National League clubs agreed in October to start the season playing behind closed doors, this decision was based on reassurances that grants would be provided to compensate for essential revenue lost from fans not returning on 1st October.

“Had these assurances not been provided then many clubs at our level may have taken the decision not to commence the season.

“We therefore call on the Secretary of State Oliver Dowden, the Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and the FA not to betray the trust National League clubs placed in them by agreeing to commence the season and to ensure the additional £11m in support is in the form of grants not loans.”

With fans still prevented from returning under the latest national lockdown, further financial support is vital if clubs in the National League are able to complete the season.

Clubs have already been walking an economic tightrope as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, working hard to implement the elite sport COVID-safe protocols and dealing with a huge loss of income not only from a lack of spectators and associated spending on food and beverages, but also further reductions on venue hire and event income from bars and clubhouses at stadiums due to the impact of the pandemic on the hospitality industry, which is a vital source of income.

The FSA has also written to DCMS to echo the calls for grants to be made available, highlighting the existential threat the further indebtedness poses to clubs, and the loss that would be felt in local communities if these clubs were to go out of business.

Calls for a reversal of the loan decision have come from throughout the game, including the Chairman of Wealdstone FC, who claims the change from promised grants to loans is like having “the rug pulled from beneath” National League clubs.

Southport FC director Ian Kyle, speaking to the club’s website as part of a wide-ranging interview on the state of the season, the importance of the health and wellbeing of players, staff and volunteers and the impact of COVID-19 restrictions, summed up the situation from their point of view.

“As far as I’m concerned it’s a complete breaking of a promise by the National League,” he said. “And I keep coming back to the question ‘Why should we as a club take a loan to continue a season where two out of every three games are being called off?’

“Fans aren’t here, there’s no-one really desperate to come and enjoy the day, we can’t prepare properly for the games, so who benefits by us taking out loans to finish this season?”

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