Premier League clubs are expected to lose £500m collectively due to the pandemic. The lack of professional football has made the headlines but the impact of Covid-19 on amateur football clubs is also a very real cause for concern.
There are more than 5,000 clubs associated with the FA, all of which will have been closed for an extended period, unable to collect players’ fees or gather much-needed funds from games, hospitality and other income.
Whilst for some clubs the summer period is quiet, many clubs that usually run activities year-round have followed the FA guidelines of no matches, no training, no socials, no interaction. The pitches are unused, players in self-isolation and – frighteningly for the future of the game – many amateur clubs might suffer to stay afloat.
Darren Moggach, Manager and Head Coach at Fleet Town Girls and Ladies FC U12’s, said that they have relied on supportive suppliers and the League waiving next season’s fees. But this only provides some small financial reassurance for next season. “One of our local clubs is, on average, costing £8,000 per month to run. This does not include players wages which run into the low thousands each month. The club has relied on accumulated bank reserves, wealthy members and local support. There are grants available, but everyone is applying for these and the FA don’t just hand over money. Some clubs have groundsman, utilities and players under contract. All have to be paid whether play goes on or not. Amateur clubs have been trying to keep the teams motivated but most expect to lose some players, simply because they are fed up and don’t want to return.”
Whilst Sport England and Central Government have offered some support to clubs, many are still lacking the expertise and understanding on how to raise vital funds during this time. Whilst I would hope that clubs would already have investigated the statutory support available – such as Business Rates Relief or crisis grants from Sport England – it is the additional fundraising opportunities where clubs need more specialised and specific advice.
Clubs that are registered as Community Amateur Sports Clubs are eligible to reclaim Gift-Aid from HMRC on any donation made by members, although it’s my experience that many don’t take advantage of this. Gift-Aid increases any donations made by members by 25%, at no cost to the club, and will make a significant difference during this time. Before a club considers asking members to donate their membership fee, for example, despite the lack of football at the moment, I urge them to look into Gift-Aid. It could make a vital difference.
Clubs must not be scared to ask members for financial support, whilst being mindful of the situation that individuals may find themselves in at this time. Have clubs considered asking players to donate the amount they would have spent on match-fees? Is it worth asking members to purchase ‘bar-credit’ to be spent when clubs re-open and which will help with cashflow? Have they thought about prize draws to generate income, and which can easily be run remotely? What other fundraising mechanisms could they consider which can help to bring in income?
At the heart of amateur football clubs is an engaged and passionate membership base. Ensuring members recognise the issues clubs are facing is key to making additional ‘asks’ for money during this time. It is in everyone’s best interest to work together to ensure, once the country gets back to some sense of normality, that amateur football clubs survive and that people can still come together to play the game they love.
Ben Wilson is Director of Development and Enterprise at Cause4