The Premier League should step in to help lower league clubs who are financially struggling without live crowds, the chairman of Colchester United has told Sophy Ridge on Sunday.
The government has shelved plans to allow fans to return to sport from October 1 due to rising cases of coronavirus – a decision that has left lower league clubs, who rely heavily on ticket revenue, facing an uncertain future.
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At Colchester, 40 per cent of permanent staff have been made redundant and they are unable to raise money through the dinners, conferences and hospitality events that the stadium is usually used for.
Colchester chairman Robbie Cowling said: “People come here and give blood, people come here and get married, people come here and have wakes. It is a community stadium. More people come here for non-football events than they do for football. It’s a hub.”
Other than the deferral of payments such as VAT, Colchester have not had any government support beyond the furlough scheme.
“The furlough scheme was brilliant to start with, but in some sectors I feel it perhaps could have been carried on,” Cowling said. “It’s like they’ve sent out this rescue boat with only half a tank of petrol, and it’s only got so far.”
But while Premier League clubs are boosted by money from televising matches, the survival of the 72 EFL clubs is in doubt without the return of live crowds.
Cowling hopes the top flight will step in, saying: “The Premier League sits on top of a pyramid, and it’s a really proud thing we have in our game, this system that goes all the way down into non-league as well.
“Most of the England team, most of the Premier League teams, their players have come from grassroots, they’ve all played under-9s football somewhere.
“The Premier League seems to think that we suck from it, but that’s not the case. It sucks from the rest of the pyramid system. It really should step in and do something. They have to.
“If they think they’re enjoying this penthouse view and they’re not in danger from the building that’s crumbling below them, they’re absolutely mad.”
But Premier League clubs may feel too much is being asked of them – millions of pounds already flow from the top division to the lower leagues every year – and they too are affected by the ban on supporters.
In an interview this week, the Premier League’s chief executive Richard Masters said: “Clubs feel they have been hit with a quadruple whammy – firstly that the optimism of October 1 has been taken away; secondly, that there will be a sports bailout but that it wouldn’t include football; thirdly, that the Premier League will be expected to secure the future of the EFL while dealing with the implications of having no fans until possibly March; and finally, the opening up of entertainment arenas within sometimes a couple of miles of football grounds without any road map for the return of football supporters.”
The government is among those saying the Premier League should take responsibility for helping smaller clubs. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told Sophy Ridge on Sunday two weeks ago that the top division “needs to play its part”. He’s vowed to “throw everything” at getting fans back in stadiums “sooner rather than later”.
But opposition parties say ministers need to do more, with Labour’s Shadow Sports Minister Alison McGovern telling Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “I don’t think there’s a social problem that Britain has that can’t be helped by sport in general, and football specifically.
“If anybody in government is snobbish about football… I don’t know why they would be and I think it’s time they should grow up because actually football is part of the solution.”
She says improving the test and trace system and explaining the logic behind decisions, especially those that affect smaller clubs, is key.
There are hopes that a bail-out deal could be agreed later this month – after the transfer window shuts. Without it – dozens of clubs will be fighting for their future.
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