AFC Portchester boss Catlin: Non-league clubs don’t seem to be getting any help from the FA or the government

Mick Catlin has blasted the 'ridiculous' decision for all pre-season friendlies involving clubs down to step 7 of the non-league pyramid to be played behind closed doors at present.

Monday, 17th August 2020, 3:54 pm
Fans watching a Wessex League game at Portchester last season. Royals boss Mick Catlin feels it's time they were allowed back into non-league grounds. Picture: Keith Woodland

And the AFC Portchester boss has urged the government and the FA to act so fans can return to grounds.

AFC Portchester, like many clubs, have backed their support for the #letfansbackin petition.

And Catlin insists a change needs to arrive or hard-up clubs could face even more financial woe during the pandemic.

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‘I just think it’s ridiculous really that you can have 50,000 people at a beach, or you can have indoor crowds, but you can’t watch a football match around an open pitch,' he said.

‘We’re not going to be anywhere near our capacity at the best of times, I just feel it’s time now.

'We played at Alton the other night in front of no fans and the referee bill was £140.

‘You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out that clubs are not going to be able to afford that for a prolonged period with no income.

'People forget we had a lot of bad weather before and just after Christmas so we had a lot of games cancelled.

‘That also had an effect on income through the bar and supporters - and that was before the pandemic.

‘It’s been a tough ride for all clubs really, we’re all trying to keep going and get by anyway we can.

‘But we don’t seem to be getting any help, certainly from The FA or the government.

‘The government are basically making the decisions on what can and cannot go ahead and the FA have to follow.'

Clubs currently have to adhere to a coronavirus protocol in order for matches to take place behind closed doors.

The fact that teams are already adhering to this, Catlin says, can easily be extended to supporters.

'When the government say ‘yes, you can do it’ the FA have to come up with a plan of how we do it safely,' he added.

‘We’ve almost done that anyway by carrying on playing games behind closed doors.

‘We still have to go through a safety plan on how we’re going to do it, that could just roll over to supporters.

‘I don’t think it would be too much of an effort to get crowds back in.’

The Royals will split the cost of the match officials with Moneyfields for Tuesday’s friendly at Dover Road.

The game was originally due to be held at Portchester but has been switched to give their reseeded pitch more time to bed in.

Portchester then welcome Bristol club Cribbs to the Crest Finance Stadium this weekend for a friendly.

That will be another hefty outlay for another game behind closed doors.

‘We’ve still got to pay the match officials, we still have to pay for stewarding, even though there’s no fans, and we still have to pay the players’ expenses,’ said Royals chairman Paul Kelly.

‘I’d say it costs about £200 to £250 to stage a home game.

‘We’ll be providing refreshments to the Cribbs team, they can take it away with them on the coach if they want.

‘If they’re coming down from Bristol we need to show them some hospitality.’

Portchester will find out on Tuesday who they have been drawn against in the extra preliminary round of the FA Cup, which takes place on September 1 - the first competitive game of 2020/21.

Normally, all clubs want a home draw. But under competition rules, the home team must pay the away team’s travel expenses as well as give them 50 per cent of the gate receipts.

Even with no fans, they will still have to pay the visitors’ travel costs.

‘You also have the pay the match officials’ travel expenses as well as their fee,’ said Kelly. ‘And in the FA Cup you never get a local referee, they tend to come from East Sussex.

‘I don’t think the FA have looked kindly on non-league football.

‘We need to have our bars open and make money from hot and cold refreshments.

‘Our capacity is 1,900. Even if we could only have 10 per cent of that, I’d be happy with 190 people at our home games.’

Portchester are due to host a Portsmouth XI towards the end of this month, normally a game which would attract a crowd of several hundred.

‘If they all spent between £5 and £10, that money would come in very handy,’ said Kelly.

The Royals were also due to stage the annual Lee Rigby Memorial friendly in May, a charity fundraiser for which they have sold around 1,500 tickets.

‘We can’t hand the money over yet (to the charity) because the game hasn’t been played,’ said the chairman.

‘Now we have to try and get the two squads together again, which will take some organising.

‘I can’t see it being held until March at the earliest.’

Kelly, meanwhile, has thanked the local community for ‘rallying round’ after a recent break-in at the ground.

The club have been donated a new garage door, some timber and other building materials, as well as around £300 in cash.

That follows several months of the Royals helping their community during the early stages of lockdown by delivering food parcels to the vulnerable and elderly.

‘I’ve always said we are the hub of our community,’ said Kelly.

‘But I’m sure that the work we did in helping others has resulted in the donations we’ve had since the break-in.’