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HERALD EXPRESS - FANS' ZONE 26/09/2020




LATEST  PANDEMIC  RESTRICTIONS  DEAL  A  HAMMER  BLOW  TO NON-LEAGUE  FOOTBALL  CLUBS  AND  THEIR  COMMUNITIES (Note: Nick's column was written at the start of the week - there have been developments since then)

The safe return of fans to elite football stadiums continues, for obvious reasons, to be a major topic but yesterday’s news that the Government has paused the return of fans to all sports stadiums has dealt a hammer blow to any hopes of a return anytime soon. With the National League’s chosen start date for season 2020-21 of October 3 drawing closer - now only eleven days away - there’s a huge decision to be taken by the league’s board. At the time of going to press they may well be waiting for further details but the likelihood is that this embargo on fans returning will be in place for some time. So what are the likely repercussions?

From the outset of  the coronavirus outbreak the National League has made it clear that fixtures will not be played behind closed doors. So will that mean no season at all or a curtailed one, for example each team only playing each other once? After all no gate revenue is unsustainable.

There was a glimmer of hope last Saturday when, after intense lobbying by the EFL to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, seven clubs, down from the original 10, across the Championship, Leagues One & Two, were able to admit up to 1000 spectators.

And finally the National League board joined in and were given permission for fans to be admitted at friendlies last night at Dagenham & Redbridge, Yeovil Town and Dartford plus a further one at Notts County on Saturday. But this turned out to be a false dawn.

The worst case scenario is a threat to the very existence of the clubs that supporters hold dear, so could historic football clubs go to the wall? Are we about to see National League & EFL teams go out of business - many were on the brink even before Covid-19. And don’t forget the impact of this on every club’s local community.

The only way to avoid this potential disaster is for a support package to be put in place.  More than 100 sports organisations have written a letter to the Government warning of an increasing crisis in professional and grass-roots sport, stating, “ Covid-19 has undermined our commercial revenue streams with both stadium and leisure facilities closed or greatly reduced in capacity.”  Adding, “ The impact of this will potentially lead to a lost generation of sport and activity.”

These are serious times calling out for measured leadership.

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Could live steaming be a possible saviour assuming all National League clubs can offer the facility?

It’s rightly been welcomed by all United fans for its good quality pictures - now with replays - (and on Saturday was considerably better than the performance against Chippenham who, don’t forget, in National South season did the double over the Gulls) - and there are, no doubt, many Plainmoor faithfuls, with or without a season ticket, who would be happy to pay to watch from their sofa. Perhaps the commentary team would be better situated centrally rather than in Number 10 restaurant?

Currently the pre-season matches have cost £4 but assuming there’s no conflict with the NL contract with BT Sport, then the league matches could be live streamed at say £10 or £12.  All this should be possible in the short term but for many clubs this would not be sustainable potentially leading to more Macclesfields.

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Macclesfield being wound up was not a shock given their debts of £500,000 but has highlighted the need for the FA’s owners’ and directors’ tests being tightened up. Back in August this column did pose the question about Macclesfield actually taking part this season and there is still the possibility, albeit rather remote, that they could.  National League CEO Michael Tatershall explains, “ The winding up order has been made but what are the options for the club? Is there any way of that being rescinded under the law? We will have to see what the club’s options are and what it chooses to do next.”

TUST has been in contact with the club’s supporters’ trust to offer support for a club founded in 1874 starting out as the 8th Cheshire Rifle Volunteers before amalgamating with the Olympic Cricket Club and moving into Moss Rose in 1891. They made it into the Football League in 1997 and their debut opening match was a 2-1 home win over visitors  ….Torquay United.

Following the weekend news that Isthmian League South East side Guernsey pulled out of the season, on Monday Southern League Merthyr Town also decided to forfeit the season and their place in the FA Cup or face going bust.

So how many more will follow suit?

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No ‘Three Word Fun’ this week as it would be interesting to learn how many Gulls fans would pay  for matches live streamed. Please answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and send to: fanszone.tu@gmail.com

As always to the Yellow Army stay safe.



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