Is the English football pyramid on the brink of collapse?
Today, the government has been warned by a group of MPs, football club owners, former players and leading authority figures from the sport, that the structure of the leagues are on the verge of collapse.
The group of prominent signatories have written a joint letter urging ministers to help with a coronavirus crisis rescue package, as the teams outside of the Premier League are struggling to cope with the impact of the pandemic.
Included in the group are former Football Association Chairmen Greg Dyke and Lord Triesman, Sunderland Co-owner Charlie Methven, broadcaster and former player Robbie Savage, VP of the National League Lord Faulkner, Chairman of the Football Supporters Association Malcolm Clarke and 11 MPs from across the country.
The letter is addressed to Oliver Dowden CBE, the Secretary of State for Digital, Media and Sport.
The statement read: “We wrote to you in May this year setting out the financial crisis facing football clubs, and particularly those in the EFL because of the loss of match day revenue resulting from the government’s policies to combat COVID-19. We also detailed a game plan that could be put in place to prevent this. Since then, clubs have been able to sustain themselves through advance season ticket sales, solidarity payments from the Premier League, and had agreed to start playing the new season in the belief that fans would be allowed to return to stadiums this autumn.
“It’s now clear that the spectators will not be back in EFL grounds, even in limited numbers, for the foreseeable future. As a consequence clubs will not only lose this budgeted for income, but will also have to refund season tickets to fans who will now be prevented from attending matches.
“There has been no agreement reached by football authorities on a bailout for clubs that need it, many of whom were already heavily indebted before the coronavirus arrived. From the statements made by ministers at DCMS questions in the House of Commons on September 24, it’s equally clear that the government has no current proposals to provide financial support, and nor is it prepared to offer any guarantee for the future.”
The EFL is heavily reliant on matchday revenues and many leading figures within the sport over the last few months have pleaded with the government to provide some form of financial support. As of yet, no plans have been made – and after the Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s new COVID-19 proposals this week – this group have made their views clear.
“Without any plans being made to rescue football clubs, many in the EFL and National League as well, are now actively preparing to make all but essential staff redundant, cease playing, close down their youth academies and community foundations, and put their business into administration. This could lead not only to the failure of many historic clubs, but the collapse of the national league structure that we have known for over 100 years. These are decisions that will be made in the coming weeks, with many clubs unable to meet their payroll obligations for the next month.
As the coronavirus devastated all sectors, the government has stepped in to provide grants and loans to keep many of them afloat. However, no such funding has been provided to sports governing bodies.
“There is still time to act, but not long left. The government made £1.5bn available to rescue arts and cultural organisations across the country that faced closure because of the coronavirus. We believe that football, like other well-loved professional sports in this country, is also a cultural activity. We would ask that the government now make clear what financial support it’s prepared to give before it is too late.
“In particular, we believe that in order for clubs to sustain themselves over the winter and keep playing, they would need to be compensated for the loss of match ticket sales. The absence of this income is not a result of their actions, but the policies that have been put in place by the government in response to a public health company.”
One of the accusations thrown at the country’s leading teams in the Premier League has been that they should be providing support. They have done, and many are now calling on the government to do their part to stop the sport from collapsing.
The group concluded: “We understand that you had hoped that the Premier League clubs might make a significant additional contribution to support the EFL. Whilst this would be welcome those clubs too face swinging losses from lost ticketing receipts and falling revenues from broadcasting matches. However, it cannot be the Premier League’s sole responsibility to sort out issues arising from government policy. The government itself needs to take responsibility or many already-embattled towns – often in areas of the country which have suffered many hardships in recent decades – will lose their last focal point.”