Fuel in the tank

“We have fuel in the tank to get clubs and sports through this” was the message that the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden announced on Thursday afternoon in welcoming the news that the Premier League had agreed a £250 million “rescue” package for the English Football League.

“The Premier League is a huge supporter of the football pyramid and is well aware of the important role clubs play in their communities. Our commitment is that no EFL club need go out of business due to Covid-19.” Said Premier League CEO Richard Masters as the details of the deal were shared. “All football clubs continue to suffer significant financial losses as a result of the pandemic, but Premier League shareholders unanimously agreed to provide additional funding and support for EFL clubs in real financial distress.”

Fine and noble words indeed but both Dowden and Masters seem to have omitted or forgotten that the Football pyramid is not made up of four tiers and 92 clubs. It extends deep down into the grassroots and into the Women’s game. Whilst there have been other “packages” announced, they all seem very thin on detail so far, which is causing significant financial pressure on the clubs who operate outside of the professional game.

The announcement that there would be funding for football outside of the Professional Men’s game plus the National League was announced on the 19th November, which the “non-elite” game was unable to play due to the lockdown measures announced on the 31st October by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

“Coronavirus-hit sports to benefit from £300m emergency funding rescue package” was the headline on the BBC website as Dowden announced the top level numbers which included £14 million for the National League (steps 3-6) £14m and £3 million for Women’s Football (Women’s Super League and FA Women’s Championship) with the first tranche of the funds were due to be distributed “in the coming weeks”. However, unlike some of the other emergency packages that had been provided to football, including the National Lottery grants to Steps 1 and 2, the bulk of the money available would be through loans rather than grants.

In the current COVID-19 landscape it is highly unlikely that clubs at Step 3 and 4 (and probably 5 and 6) are making enough surplus cash to be able to afford any loan repayments. Most will be surviving thanks to the benevolence of some individuals or because they have been able to use Government schemes such as Furlough to significantly reduce their player and management costs, which are the biggest outgoings for most clubs. So the notion that clubs have spare money laying around to repay a loan is nonsensical.

Of course, most clubs generate revenue from other sources apart from through the gate. Secondary spend refers to the money fans spend when they are in the ground. In most instances, the new restrictions on clubs located in Tier 2 means that they cannot open their bar or in some cases even their tea huts and club shops, effectively wiping out this income. It isn’t just match day revenue either – clubs that operate a bar or function room are heavily restricted on what they can operate for the rest of the week.

It is great news that the EFL clubs have a lifeline – they will have had to maintain their payroll to players and most staff through the last eight months whilst seeing no revenue at all coming through the gate. I would imagine for some clubs, who perhaps had gambled on promotion in terms of their contracts to players, this is quite literally a lifeline. But before the backslapping is finished perhaps now it is time for some attention a bit further into the footballing world and ensuring that the right financial packages are in place to meet the current and short-term needs of the non-elite and Women’s football who face a bleak midwinter without it.

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