Non-league and lower-league football clubs could go out of business if the coronavirus outbreak leads to a prolonged shutdown, according to the Dagenham & Redbridge managing director, Steve Thompson.
The Daggers’ National League game at Woking was postponed on Saturday, after two of their players and two members of staff showed symptoms of the virus.
The league has tried to continue, despite the EFL and Premier League postponing all games for three weeks. Six fixtures went ahead on Saturday in the top tier, with five postponed, and games also took place in the North and South divisions.
Many clubs at Dagenham’s level rely on hospitality and events for a large portion of their income, and Thompson can see EFL and National League clubs going to the wall if there is an extended break.
“Potentially, some clubs are not going to survive this,” Thompson said. “We’ve got a large social facility with two function rooms and lots of clubs in non-league, and Leagues One and Two, rely on that income.”
“People will also start to think if they should be attending,” Thompson added. “Lots of the functions we have are 50th wedding anniversaries and birthday parties. Do people want their elderly relatives to attend?
“It’s not just the football, it’s everything around it. We are no different to restaurants, bars and hotels who are seeing a downturn in their numbers. We’re all in the hospitality industry.”
The potential ban on mass gatherings in the UK, likely to come into force next week, would take any decision to play games in the National League out of its hands. Thompson believes losses would be inevitable at football clubs, and the government should include them in any bailout package for the hospitality industry over lost earnings.
“Staff will start being laid off and that’s going to have an impact on everybody,” said Thompson. “We employ a lot of part-time staff on zero-hours contracts and if we haven’t got games or functions on, those people are not going to be employed. That will happen in bars, restaurants, hotels and football clubs. Where you are with full-time staff and players will depend on how long this lasts.”
Thompson also dismissed the idea that Premier League clubs could be the key to supporting lower league sides financially.
“We’re talking £10m to £20m just to support the National League clubs over three or four months,” he said. “Premier League clubs spend hundreds of millions, but the vast majority of that goes on salaries and those players are on contracts.”
“Everyone says [we can] get the money from the Premier League, but they spend it. They can’t turn around and say ‘we’re going to cut salaries in half, and pay for the problems the rest of football has got because of coronavirus’. The FA do have m oney, not as much to support every club in the country, but they could help. The rest would have to be down to the government.”