Football and coronavirus: ‘This could be the end of the grassroots game’ | Football

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This could be the end of grassroots football. The impact is going to be horrendous. The main problem now is we’re not getting money we would usually receive from training-session fees or fundraising, because they’re not taking place. That money goes towards subsidising teams for the next season, helping them with pitch fees, league fees, trophy presentations, etc.

It isn’t coming in and, when football does resume, a lot of parents will be out of work. We were subsidising a lot of kids before this happened. The club I’m involved in are partners in a 3G hub and, even with discount, it costs us over £30,000 a year in pitch hire. That’s just training for 300 kids. You’ve got league fees and council pitch fees on top. Where’s the money going to come from for fees and equipment? The firms who usually sponsor teams are getting battered too.

More pitches will be sold by councils to fund rescue packages. There will be a knock-on effect on kids’ health in terms of rising obesity levels and psychological consequences. We will probably see a decrease in volunteers, who are vital in running grassroots football. We’re not in this game to produce the next Premier League star; we do it to help kids get fit and make friends. But if even the Premier League are crying out for money there’s going to be nothing left for us at the bottom.

Grassroots football would not be struggling as badly as it was before the lockdown had the Premier League stuck to the agreement to give 5% of its income to the grassroots game. Everton and Liverpool are each giving £75,000 every year for three years to help deprived kids play football after Joe Anderson [mayor of Liverpool] wrote to Farhad Moshiri and Tom Werner for help. I propose they use that money to pay league fees for all teams next season, otherwise a lot will fold.

Kenny Saunders, founder of the Save Grassroots Football campaign

Sunday league action in Leicester in mid-March, shortly before the lockdown. Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty Images


I know football will change because I’m experiencing it at first hand. In mid-March I was furloughed by Maidenhead United and my contract expires in the next couple of months. Normally I would be confident of getting it sorted out but, with suggestions we might not start playing until January, it is a little bit worrying. Football provides most of my income and you find yourself asking questions: what state will clubs be in financially when football is back? Will they all be able to carry on? And if they are, what kind of contract are you going to be offered? It may well be one with less money and at this level that can be significant.

For a number of players there is not a big difference between what they can earn as a full-time player or a part-timer with another job, or working full-time in a different industry. People will be faced with difficult choices if they are offered contracts that might not represent full-time money.

Over the last three years we’ve seen most of the National League move towards being full-time – Maidenhead are one of the exceptions but we’re halfway there, because we train twice a week during the day and once in the evening – but I wonder whether the clock will be turned back. With finances taking such a hit we might end up where we were a decade or so ago, with 50-70% of clubs in the division saying they can’t afford a full-time operation. Players would have to find ways to supplement their income.

James Comley (left) playing for Maidenhead against Dagenham & Redbridge this season.

James Comley (left) playing for Maidenhead against Dagenham & Redbridge this season. Photograph: Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo/Shutterstock

A lot of teams stay overnight before away games and that is a cost many won’t be able to sustain. As someone whose club tends to travel on the day, meaning I leave home at 6.30am for games up north, I know the strain that puts on a player.

I don’t want to be hearing about transfer stories linking Premier League clubs with big-money signings. So many players and clubs are struggling and they need to be the focus.

James Comley, Maidenhead United midfielder

Expenditure on players will have to fall because of the amount of revenue clubs will lose. That goes for all levels, including ours. You would be shocked by some of the wages at tier two of the National league.

There are players on £1,000 per week. We were top of the National League South from the third week of the season until its early termination in April but we are not the biggest spenders. There have been cases where we offered a player £500 per week and someone came in with £800 per week and a signing-on fee. That sort of expenditure has become even more difficult to sustain.

Sensible management will be even more important. One of the things we did incredibly well was get the right player for the right money and who wanted to be at Wealdstone for the right reasons. We were specific about the type of player we wanted: local men who maybe had not had the sort of success they should have had in previous seasons and were looking to build again.

I have seen suggestions the National League should be regionalised to reduce travel costs and, while understanding the sentiment, I believe good management will enable clubs to cope with a few long trips. We expect to find out this week how this season’s standings will be determined – in other words, whether we will be promoted or the campaign voided. On the basis of our cost analysis, we are confident we could handle the travel expenses – so long as people are allowed to attend matches and, with suitable social distancing, use our bar.

Wealdstone fans pictured in 2012. The chairman says having supporters at games and in the club’s bar will be vital to the budget.

Wealdstone fans pictured in 2012. The chairman says having supporters at games and in the club’s bar will be vital to the budget. Photograph: Colin McPherson/Corbis via Getty Images

It would be welcome if the crisis led to big clubs deciding to go on fewer world tours and contesting more pre-season friendlies with local sides. A summer game against a Premier League or Championship team – with 2-3,000 at £15 per head – can make a huge difference.

Rory Fitzgerald, Wealdstone chairman

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