• Adam Stubbings

Musings from the South Stand #14: Game on the Precipice

The nightmare that is 2020 has kicked into another gear with yesterday’s announcement by the government that spectators will not be allowed back into football grounds in October as originally planned, owing to the growing rate of Covid-19 infections in the UK over recent weeks.

Clubs have already lost so much money from the effects of this pandemic, and this news serves only to push clubs across the pyramid closer to the precipice of extinction without serious intervention. That intervention needs to materialise now, and the powers that be must stop dithering over potential financial aid before it is too late.

Barren Winter Spells Doom

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government have warned UK sports bodies to prepare for having to operate without fans throughout the winter months until at least March as the latest wave of wishy-washy restrictions takes hold on the public. However, the stark reality is that sport cannot cope without supporters bringing revenue into clubs any longer having been stretched to breaking point over the past six months, and football stands at the front of the leagues of sport and recreation across Britain now in desperate need of a bail-out.

For EFL clubs like Doncaster Rovers, long-term sustainability does not exist without supporters buying tickets and coming to watch games. Talks between the various organisations running the beautiful game in this country have rumbled on for months with no solution appearing, so the time has come for football clubs and fans to unite as one voice and demand action before it is too late.

You can probably count on one hand the number of clubs below the Championship who could survive a winter without any rescue package - that covers not just Leagues One and Two, but the National League and vast non-league pyramid, within which clubs such as Guernsey and Droylsden have already had to take the decision to withdraw from the league because they cannot operate without vital match day revenue. In truth, even the big clubs at the top cannot afford to do so, hemorrhaging millions of pounds as they are during the pandemic.

A Hand Up, Not a Hand Out

The Premier League has been urged to contribute to a financial package to aid the EFL since early in the pandemic, yet unsurprisingly they have not yet come up with anything beyond advancing solidarity payments already agreed upon. One train of thought is that those most successful in the game have no obligation to help the “lesser” clubs and they certainly don’t, but if they can see past the monstrous power imbalance that has been allowed to develop since the advent of Sky TV in the early 90’s then perhaps those giants of the game will see that without us smaller clubs they would not have the foundation on which they built their empire.

This is an insight completely lost on some, as demonstrated by Burnley manager Sean Dyche yesterday when he suggested that the Premier League is akin to a successful hedge fund business that has no need to pull up less successful hedge fund businesses. What Dyche fails to note in his lazy comparison is that Premier League clubs such as his own rely heavily on the competition of EFL clubs, and certainly on the development of their players that scores of smaller clubs have done ostensibly for their benefit.

Burnley have spent a grand total of six seasons in the last 40 years as a top flight club, and were a fourth tier side as recently as the 1990s. Dyche himself made his name as a player at Chesterfield, a club now among the dozens in non-league unable to operate without fans, yet he appears to have forgotten where he came from, underlining the attitude at the heart of many at the top of the pyramid raking in the millions.

No, they don’t need to bail out the EFL and non-league but if they don’t, their glamorous league has no foundation with which to sustain itself and in the long run, it cannot survive either.

Now or Never

Back in July, the government acquiesced to growing pressure by providing a significant bail-out of the Arts and Culture sector of the country to the tune of around £2 billion because they ultimately recognised how important The Arts are to both our economy and our daily lives. Millions of people love the escapism and enjoyment gleaned from theatres, museums and the like, and sport is no different. Millions dedicate a good portion of their week to playing, watching or otherwise participating in sport and if those sports are left to collapse now then it will be disastrous in numerous ways for so many people.

Our football clubs cannot be left to die now. We must come together and urge those with the power and resources to do something, to do something. The government, the Premier League, the EFL and supporter’s organisations can solve this crisis if they put their heads together and act decisively, but they need to do it now for the sake of millions.