The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on football, with the lower leagues in particular, taking a huge hit both financially and in terms of marketing. As a fan of League Two outfit Newport County, who are incidentally a supporter-owned football club, it is safe to say that there have been so many uncertainties surrounding the club since the pandemic began. Of course, the health and safety of the public takes priority over football without question, but it will be a continual struggle for the club while the virus is still rife.
I watched my beloved Newport County defeat Morecambe 1-0 on Saturday 7th March 2020 in a rather dull encounter and in what many would describe as a ‘classic League Two/lower league game’. The season was petering out for us as we were 15th place and despite having two games in hand on most and only 12 points off the play-offs with 11 games to go, we looked well off the pace. I’d already experienced a few seasons like this since I began supporting them in 2006, so I was hardly surprised! Little did I know that this game would be the final football match I would spectate live for a significant period of time.
Prior to COVID, I suspect I have only missed around half a dozen home games since I got a season ticket every season since 2007, so it felt unusual to not be attending games during March, April, May and September as I normally would. It soon became clear that the remainder of the 2019-20 was going to be suspended and that the lower leagues would not be able to play their remaining games. It also became clear that football supporters would, understandably, not be able to attend games for the foreseeable future. As I already said, the quality of life is of far greater importance and so it definitely put it all into perspective for me and I quickly adapted to life without County home games.
The inevitable news that the outstanding League Two fixtures were unable to be played eventually came out around May time and it was definitely a relief. I suppose I can say that as a supporter of a team that was mid-table at the time and had little to play for; but I was glad they came to that decision. However, on the flip side, as a supporter-owned, lower league club, County’s main source of revenue is through gate receipts which was obviously not possible after 7 March and that would have had a negative impact on the club’s finances and still is now. Luckily, we are able to watch this season’s matches on iFollow on the club’s website, paying £10 for matches as if we were actually attending, which does boost the club’s finances, but the supporters who are willing to pay that to watch it on a laptop are generally in relative short supply.
Also, I personally believe that the club (like many other lower league clubs) would have lost supporters during the pandemic, especially with the Premier League and Championship returning in June. I will admit, I was thrilled when the Premier League returned and I do follow most games. However, from my own perspective as a supporter of Newport County, I have noticed that we often struggle to maintain supporters at the best of times and without the marketing power of Premier League clubs and co, the pandemic will have definitely impacted the fanbase. Until we are safely able to return to attending matches, us supporters of lower league clubs must do all we can to support the club during this period of financial difficulty and uncertainty.
It is fantastic that all football is now back, and it is currently a small price to pay that we cannot attend the matches, hopefully sooner than rather than later we will all be back watching our teams like we used to!