The future of non-league: More chairmen have their say
- Credit: Archant
More restrictions come into place in the non-league game and for many clubs another step could be one too far. MIKE BACON takes up the story.
With tighter Covid-19 restrictions being announced this week, non-league football continues to try and plot itself through the continuing crisis.
At all levels, from Step 1 (where they still haven’t started their seasons), through to the grassroots game, clubs are balancing balls and trying to balance the books in an effort to see themselves through the winter.
And it’s not proving easy.
Already Step 3 Merthyr Town, who play at the same level as Leiston, Lowestoft and Needham Market have called time on their Southern League season, citing local lockdown restrictions that also prevent fans from attending games.
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While there is no evidence of that yet in England, non-league chairmen and managers are already planning ahead - as well as making changes to the new restrictions that include takeaway service in club houses, as well as a 10pm bar curfew, that will especially affect evening matches.
ANDY CRISP (Leiston chairman): “We will adjust to the new restrictions but it will mean more costs and more staff to serve as people aren’t allowed to come to the bar. My main concern is that spectators stop coming because they don’t feel safe, which shouldn’t be the case, because clubs are putting in all the guidance. I think we have to be worried about that. I can’t speak on behalf of other local clubs, but we are doing our best right now and we’re ok, but there are no guarantees.”
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KEITH NUNN (Needham Mkt chairman): “Obviously if the virus got worse and there were no paying spectators, there I would imagine leagues would be suspended. But that’s not the case at the moment and as a club, we are relatively ok compared to most. On Saturday we are at home and there will be table service only in the club house. We are at home again on Tuesday, but of course the club house will close at 10. Clubs at our level have six-figure turnovers, we need crowds to continue to come in. That’s a must.
MARK MORSLEY (AFC Sudbury manager): “So long as the crowds keep being allowed to come in, I think most clubs will be fine. That’s the key. Quite frankly if crowds stop then some clubs will go bust - as simple as that. As a club with an academy, if that education revenue stream was badly affected, obviously that would be of concern, but my attitude is that the government is in charge and we all have to work around it to the best of our abilities.”
CHRIS DAYNES (Felixstowe & Walton joint chairman): “As a club, we are almost back to where we were before lockdown on match days, but our events business at the club has been lost. We are a seven-day-a-week clubhouse but now it is just match days and that’s cost us thousands. Now we are reorganising the club house again because we are takeaway service only, with a small hatch for service. That’s all well and good in September but come December and January it will be more difficult.”
NEIL SHARP (Chairman Stowmarket Community Sports and Social Club, incorporating Stowmarket Town): “We are averaging 50 or so less people this season than we did last. OK, it’s early days but we are not getting the numbers at the moment we were getting last season. And probably 25-30% only stay for a drink. I think at our level, Step 5, and just above and below it will be very difficult for all clubs to survive. We are going to have to try and diversify from match-day only income.
PETER CROWHURST (Brantham chairman): “We have spent thousands on making our ground and club house a safe environment. And now things are changing again. You feel like a boxer getting up from one punch, only to be hit by another. Our staff have been brilliant and our football team have done fantastically well on the pitch. Their performances are keeping us going. I’m just fearful the next move is no fans and where do you go from there?”
Throughout the season Mike Bacon and Carl Marston will look to predict some of the region’s non-league games each weekend.
Last week Mike won comfortably, 13 points to eight and took a narrow 26-25 lead in the race to be crowned ‘non-league big predictor of the season!’
The pair of them get three points for a correct result and scoreline, one point for a correct result ie. home, away win, draw.
Here are this week’s ties to look out for.
NEEDHAM v STRATFORD
(Southern Prem Central)
An opening league win for Stratford last weekend, while Needham picked up a draw. Stratford are invariably one of the stronger sides in this division. But Needham have shown some good form, despite their disappointing FA Cup loss on Monday.
MIKE: 2-0, CARL 1-1
COALVILLE v LEISTON
(Southern Prem Central)
Leiston had a stonking FA Cup victory in midweek, but Coalville were solid last season. Will be a good test this for Darren Eadie’s team after their midweek joy.
MIKE: 2-0, CARL 2-1
AFC SUDBURY v BARKING
Mixed week for Mark Morsley’s Sudbury, but at home they do often perform so well. Barking beat Dunstable 6-1 in the FA Cup in midweek.
MIKE: 3-0, CARL 2-0
WHITTON v HAVERHILL
(Eastern Counties Prem)
If early season results are anything to go by, this could be a goal fest! Whitton had got 12 in five games, Haverhill have scored four times twice in the last four games!
MIKE: 3-1, CARL 2-2
WOODBRIDGE v MILDENHALL
(Eastern Counties Prem)
The Peckers have made a poor start to the season, while Mildenhall lost their first game on the season in midweek at Leighton in the FA Cup. Tough one to call.
MIKE: 1-1, CARL 1-2
HAUGHLEY V HENLEY
Two unbeaten sides and two attractive sides. This should draw a good crowd to Haughley.
MIKE: 1-3, CARL 1-1