Whilst the pull of the Premier League is undeniable, with the best players in world football regularly frequenting our screens, the core of our national game lies a lot lower down the pyramid.
With a national set up unrivalled in terms of its sheer depth, the English domestic game offers a vast number of opportunities for the public to venture out and enjoy grass roots football. However, the fear for many is now the very real possibility of their beloved hometown club no longer taking to the field on a Saturday afternoon.
The impact of Covid-19 has been and continues to be catastrophic, with many people losing their lives to a virus we are still struggling to get to grips with. Football and sport has rightfully taken a back seat as we protect the welfare of the vulnerable, but the ramifications for amateur and part time clubs promises to be life changing for many and is something we simply cannot ignore.
Budgets at many clubs are planned meticulously to ensure they can operate within their means, regardless of results on the field. Whilst football is on hold clubs can fall back on the governments furlough scheme to fund player contracts, but with extremely limited support for other overheads such as stadium rent there are still significant financial challenges to overcome.
Our elite football league clubs can fall back on tv revenue or wealthy owners to compensate for lost gate receipts. Barring the very odd exception, non-league clubs do not have this luxury as supporters through the turnstiles is their primary source of income and without this the viability of the club moving forward is seriously questioned.
On top of this, there is the very real possibility of football returning behind closed doors for many part-time clubs which would mark an end to the government furlough support. This is the predicament facing those in the Football Conference and regionalised conference leagues at present and is likely to be replicated for many more clubs competing at regional levels in the very near future.
The unpredictability of the government’s national Covid-19 tiering system makes it impossible for any club to plan to welcome fans back in grounds on a regular basis and as such makes contingency planning very difficult.
The sad truth is that the return of football in empty stadiums will result in many clubs being wound up as they simply cannot accommodate the costs required to run a football club without fans on the terraces.
While we all want to see our clubs back in action, surely we need to prioritise the long term existence of these clubs by working with them to develop an achievable plan for the return of regular football. If for nothing else, we owe it to the hundreds of thousands of fans who live for Saturday afternoons and have dedicated much of their lives to their club.
Football brings people together and for many it isn’t simply part of their social life, it is life.
Let’s keep it that way.