National League club accuse Government of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ economics in wake of funding crisis

The managing director of a National League club has accused the Government of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ economics in the wake of the funding crisis that has gripped the top of the non league pyramid.

Sunday, 24th January 2021, 3:23 pm
Hawks in action during a recent game against Eastbourne Borough - the National League South season has now been suspended until Friday, February 5. Picture: Neil Marshall

The National League South and North divisions were last Friday suspended for a two-week period after clubs voiced their anger at the moving of the financial goalposts less than halfway through the 2020/21 season.

After being handed grants to cover the last three months of 2020, the 66 National League clubs were last week told their January, February and March cash would be in the form of loans via the Government’s £300m Sport Winter Survival Package.

While the National League - the top flight of non league football - is carrying on, league officials have paused the sixth tier for a fortnight while they attempt to seek solutions to what is an unholy mess.

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If an answer is not forthcoming, clubs could be asked to vote on bringing the season to an early finish.

Alongside virtually every other National League club, Hawks kicked off 2020/21 believing they would be funded - via grants - for as long as they had to play games behind closed doors.

While some clubs did finally welcome some fans back in December – Hawks, for example, hosted Chelmsford and Slough – a rise in infection rates soon put a stop to that.

This month’s announcement of a third national lockdown has now raised fears that supporters might not be allowed back into ‘elite’ stadia before the start of next season.

Dagenham & Redbridge managing director Steve Thompson said in a statement: ‘Whilst no-one ever thought we would be in January still faced with having to play behind closed doors, this matter was considered by the authorities back in October / November.

‘When the final details of the package were concluded at a meeting between the DCMS, Football Association and the National League in November, it was clearly the expectation that in the event that supporters were still not allowed back come January the support package of grants would be continued.’

Now, however, clubs are being asked to play in empty grounds and pay back the money they are given for three months!

Thompson’s club were given £252,000 in grants for October, November and December – £84,000 per month – while Hawks banked a total of £90,000 over the same period. Those are figures no non-league club can be expected to take on as loans while they play in front of empty stands and terraces.

Thompson continued: ‘It is inconceivable to consider that senior Government figures and indeed government Ministers felt that whilst grants were the only way that the 66 community clubs were going to be able to start the season, but that if the situation were to continue then they would be able just to borrow money to conclude their season.

‘It is just not rational!

‘The fact is that our clubs and our league are just not big enough to take on a multi-million-pound loan to enable them to carry on playing.

‘Already most clubs are still relying on financial support from their members and directors and to add to this burden is just impossible.’

That is certainly true at Hawks, where directors have had to find the money to pay this month’s salaries without any income at all.

Thompson added: ‘It is my personal opinion that we are in a very perilous position, probably even more precarious than anytime since the start of this pandemic.

‘The reason I say clubs are in a more perilous position than at any time in the past 10 months is because all our clubs signed players in September and October on the basis that grant funding was available.

‘These contracts will run at least until the end of May and many beyond.

‘Clubs now have vast commitments they would not have had if the grant funds had not been given and the season had not started.’

It has been calculated that if the season was stopped and clubs put players and staff on furlough, it would end up costing the Government more money than if they’d continued paying grants for the next three months.

‘How can that be economically sane?’ asked Thompson. ‘I know it is a crazy world but that is the economics of Alice in Wonderland.’

The National League have asked all clubs to contact their MPs to lobby Government in a bid to get the loans decision overturned and grants restored.

Thompson has written to five MPs and three of them - Jon Cruddas, Andrew Rosindell and Sam Tarry - have already got involved.

Hawks have yet to speak to Havant MP Alan Mak, the vice chairman of the Conservative Party, but will almost certainly be looking to contact him this week.

Thompson summed up: ‘In addition I am asking all of our supporters, and indeed all football supporters throughout the country, to contact their local MPs and even the DCMS directly to try and persuade the Government to support the 66 community clubs that make up the National League.

‘If we deserved your support back in October then surely we deserve your support now.

‘Please don’t let your local clubs die.’