‘There is an Armageddon that is about to happen’ - Barton’s warning as EFL faces £200m loss without fans
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Fleetwood boss Joey Barton has warned of the huge impact not having fans return to games will have on the lower tiers of English football, saying ‘it really scares me’.
There were several pilot events in the EFL last weekend which saw up to 1,000 supporters return to games ahead of a planned wider return in October - but those plans have now been paused amid a surge in coronavirus cases.
With Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying that the new measures could be in place for six months, football faces the very real possibility of fans not returning to games until March, if at all this season.
It’s estimated EFL clubs will lose £200m in that scenario, with teams in Leagues One and Two voting to end their campaigns last season because they couldn’t afford to play behind closed doors.
While clubs can now sell live streams of all their games, it’s nowhere near what they would be making with fans at games - and lower tier clubs depend on gate receipts to make ends meet.
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Ipswich Town were among the few who did vote to play on back in June, and are better placed than many to navigate these choppy waters, but owner Marcus Evans, whose corporate hospitality business has been badly hit, won’t be able to fill the financial black hole indefinitely.
Barton, head coach of Ipswich Town’s League One rivals Fleetwood, said: “There is an Armageddon that is about to happen down here which is going to destabilise a lot of clubs.
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“We have seen Macclesfield go, Bury go last year and we have seen Wigan in a tight spot and there are going to be a lot of clubs that if we don’t have fans back in stadiums, which doesn’t look like is going to happen, are going to be severely hampered if not forced to the wall by some of these decisions.
“It really, really scares me. People are getting discarded and made redundant and clubs are being closed and that is just wrong. Absolutely wrong.
“I have been at the top table and earned loads of dough and I didn’t complain but when you see players earning £300,000, £400,000, £500,000 a week - your Alexis Sanchezs - and we have got clubs here who are struggling to keep the electricity on, it is just wrong.
“We have to protect what we have because football has been around in this country for a long time. It wasn’t just invented in 1992 with the Premier League.”
Lincoln chief executive Liam Scully said the news was a blow for all EFL clubs who rely on match-day income.
“The situation we find ourselves in in lower league football is very difficult,” he explained.
“We’ve got to be very respectful of the medical and scientific advice, but there’s no doubt that today’s news is a real hammer blow to both Lincoln City and the 72 other EFL clubs that massively rely on match-day income.”
He added: “I fear there’s going to be casualties, I really do.
“We need (the Government) to tell us what we’re working towards. The mood is definitely a difficult one in uncertain times. As current custodians of the football clubs, we’re all petrified of what happens under our stewardship.
“We definitely don’t want the administrations that see clubs who have been here for 100 or 150 years go out of business.
“We’re nowhere near that right now at Lincoln City and I’m sure many other clubs.
“But equally we all know the financial model in football is a delicate one, arguably it’s been broken for a while, and this is really going to put stress and pressure on all clubs within the EFL and lower in terms of survival and being here to fight another day.”
The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden, met with representatives from a wide range of sports yesterday afternoon to hold further talks on the financial impact of the restrictions.
It is understood DCMS is keen to move quickly to identify areas where there is critical need, but remains of the view that the Premier League should provide support to the EFL.
Talks are continuing between the bodies over a possible bailout, but the Premier League has pointed out that the lack of fans is starting to have a “devastating” impact on the finances of its own clubs.