Non-league crisis: ‘We could do with some help’.... ‘Players will be furloughed’ .... ‘They keep changing the rules’.... ‘Revenue halved’

Ipswich Wanderers' Humber Doucy Lane ground. Photo: Archant

Ipswich Wanderers' Humber Doucy Lane ground. Photo: Archant - Credit: Archant

Non-league football begins it’s month-long lockdown with the future uncertain and many clubs left scratching their heads.

A lot of effort has been made to keep fans safe at non-league grounds This photo is from last season

A lot of effort has been made to keep fans safe at non-league grounds This photo is from last season. Picture: JOHN HEALD - Credit: Archant

From confusing demands to not enough financial help, the game at all levels is finding the going tough.

While everyone understands the need to get the Covid virus numbers down, the grim reality of the situation in non-league football clubs is that many have spent thousands in pursuit of making grounds safe and secure.

Many now feel they are back to square one, with fixture congestion set to be a problem going forward and the real likelihood leagues may not be completed - for a second season.

Chris Daynes, joint-chairman of Step 4 Isthmian North club, Felixstowe & Walton, whose club have spent just under £20,000 on making their ground safe, summed up the way many clubs were feeling.

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“We’ve made a monumental effort to get the ground Covid secure and we were confident we had created a safe environment,” he said.

“Crowds are up, there have been no issues on match days and now lockdown again.

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“Of course we understand the need to do it and I suppose we would rather have a four-week shutdown and get the virus numbers down so we can complete the season. There were becoming too many games getting called off because of Covid issues and it was heading towards a stop/start season.

Joint chairman at Felixstowe & Walton, Chris Daynes. Picture: CAROLE ROBINSON

Joint chairman at Felixstowe & Walton, Chris Daynes. Picture: CAROLE ROBINSON - Credit: Archant

“We have spent just under £20,000 on the ground. Yes, we’ve had some grants but we are now going to cover up our tarmac area outside our clubhouse as you can only serve drink when seated. That’s another cost.

“My only worry is that if we don’t start back on December 2, or just after, how are we going to get all the fixtures in? We have only played five league games. We don’t want another null and void season.”

And one situation Chris did feel strongly about was his club’s junior section - which is considerable.

“I feel for our juniors,” he said.

“Everyone knows physical activity is good for children, good for their mental health. Why are they allowed to sit in a classroom all day with mixed households, but not allowed to play football in open space at weekends?”

Stephen Boyle is chairman of Ipswich Wanderers, who play at Step 6 in Thurlow One North.

A couple of Steps down from Felixstowe & Walton, he has seen his club’s match-day revenue halved in recent weeks.

Leiston Chairman Andy Crisp.

. Leiston Chairman Andy Crisp.

“They change the rules continuously, that’s what’s annoying,” he said.

“The amount of money we have thrown at new signage, even beer kegs as you can’t sell pints around the ground - hand gels. As a club we’ve spent about £2,000, which is a lot of money for us. There has been some funding. We got £500 for clubhouse improvements, but quite honestly that all went on hand gel and sprays.

“The rules on consuming alcohol while seated is quite a good hospitality ruling I think. It stops people socially mingling out of their bubbles. But if you are watching the game around the ground, that’s not a beer garden, you are already doing your activity. That’s been completely misinterpreted.

“I can’t see how we would be able to get through a season if we can’t sell a pint in a plastic cup or cup of tea.

“Recently our match-day receipts, including entrance, food and drink were down 50% - from £1,400 to £700.”

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Ipswich Wanderers chairman Stephen Boyle

Ipswich Wanderers chairman Stephen Boyle - Credit: Archant

Leiston chairman Andy Crisp says he would like to see the big clubs step in and help non-league.

“I think the Premier League could help clubs down the pyramid,” he said. Leiston play at Step 3.

“I know they have helped clubs just above us at Steps 1 and 2 which is great, as they have had to play with no fans. At our level that is something we couldn’t contemplate.

“Cost-wise we have spent almost £8,000 on additional requirements to keep everyone safe. That’s a big cost and has come harder because from our point of view our gates have dwindled somewhat because of the ages of some of our fans means they don’t want to take the risk of coming out.

“Our FA Cup run has been excellent. We have won four games which not many non-league clubs can say. But the revenue was halved this season. If it hadn’t been, the additional revenue we have had to spend wouldn’t have made much difference.”

And the news of the Government’s furlough scheme extending has been of help to clubs like Leiston.

“It’s good for the club and the player,” Crisp added.

“We can look after the players, who in turn are looking after us.”

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