A joint statement from South Shields FC, FC United of Manchester and Scarborough Athletic

FC United of Manchester, South Shields FC and Scarborough Athletic FC have agreed the following statement to highlight the discrepancy between the financial support across the football pyramid. Covid-19 has hit the income of our clubs to a greater degree than many National League clubs – but we will receive none of the £10 million “lifeline” from the National Lottery.

On 2nd October, following the announcement that the National League clubs would receive a subsidy to compensate for lost crowds, our three clubs wrote to Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Media and Sport to explain why a number of well-run clubs below step two of the non-league pyramid faced losing far more in gate receipts than many National League sides and were on the brink of ruin in exactly the same circumstances as the National League clubs but had been offered no support. This was copied to Nigel Huddleston, Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage and was circulated to relevant departments at the Football Association by Mark Harris, Chairman of the Northern Premier League. Our letter was co-signed by Malcolm Clarke, Chair of the FSA and MPs Emma Lewell-Buck, Robert Goodwill and received support from MP Lucy Powell.

It is hugely disappointing that we have not heard back from anyone in government or at the FA to open dialogue or even to acknowledge our situation. The information from our league continues to be that there is no similar lifeline for clubs below step two of the non-league system even though a number are in a perilous position.

It was made clear by Nigel Huddleston in Parliament that the subsidy, arranged through the National Lottery, is to compensate for lost gate receipts and it was announced yesterday that the National League clubs will receive amounts varying between £30,000 and £95,000 a month for a minimum of three months. This will then be reviewed with potentially further grants available.

To be clear, despite having a small number of spectators allowed in our stadiums, the restrictions for FC United and South Shields have locked out more supporters (and therefore lost us more in gate receipts) than the following 30 now subsidised National League clubs: Ebbsfleet United, Boreham Wood, Southport, Gateshead, Blyth Spartans, Guiseley, Kettering Town, Brackley Town, Leamington, Farsley Celtic, Alfreton Town, Bradford Park Avenue, Gloucester City, Curzon Ashton, Wealdstone, Chelmsford City, Slough Town, Billericay Town, Dorking Wanderers, Welling United, St Albans City, Chippenham Town, Tonbridge Angels, Hampton & Richmond Borough, Hemel Hempstead Town, Eastbourne Borough, Braintree Town, Concord Rangers, Oxford City and Hungerford Town. Scarborough’s crowd restrictions have seen them lose more crowds (and therefore gate receipts) than Curzon Ashton, Oxford City and Hungerford Town.

Our three clubs do not begrudge that those clubs have received compensation for lost gate receipt revenue. Their argument, that they are sustainable businesses at the heart of their local communities who have been made unsustainable by government restrictions outside their control, resonates with us and we are in agreement that support should be offered in these circumstances. However, we were led to believe in the concept of a football family and a National League System spanning from step one in the National League down to step six. The actions of the government in abandoning clubs below step two and the National League’s self-interested negotiations, added to a lack of transparency around decision making have shown this concept up for the sham that it is. Oliver Dowden was quoted that “we are all agreed the Premier League needs to step up to the plate” and provide assistance to the EFL. How shallow those words now sound to us grassroots clubs who have been abandoned by his government.

An example of the sheer absurdity of our situation is that South Shields and FC United have battled through to the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup and on Saturday will host National League side FC Halifax Town, who are subsidised to the tune of £84,000 a month, and National League North side Guiseley, who are subsidised £30,000 a month. We receive zero in subsidy which ensures that it will not be a level playing field, but to add insult to injury, regulations require that we must split our limited matchday gate and streaming receipts 50/50 with our subsidised opponents.

Our three clubs highlighted that we were a handful of clubs caught between the elite and grassroots with capacity restrictions which couldn’t keep us sustainable. Since then the situation has deteriorated for a growing number of grassroots clubs who initially were able to make restrictions work for them. As the pandemic second wave increasingly spreads across the country, grassroots clubs have seen capacities further cut beyond the national guidelines and restrictions or bans on the sale of food and beverage in stadiums and in the use of social clubs. We don’t have lucrative TV or sponsorship deals and those three revenue streams are what we rely on for the vast majority of our income. We understand that the elite clubs can’t operate with crowds because of a decision directly taken by government and so government has directly stepped in. We understand that the growing list of restrictions beyond what was agreed with the DCMS for grassroots are on the whole imposed by local County FAs and local authorities but the government should not side-step responsibility for our situations just because for us the decisions are being taken at a local level. At a time of national crisis, government actions are what are ultimately driving local authorities to act.

This is not just about us but about recognising that grassroots football matters. It matters to our supporters, to our communities and to the wider football structure which needs us as a stepping stone to elite.

We therefore call on government and the FA ‘to step up to the plate’ and engage through the non-league Alliance Committee to secure additional relief for affected clubs from the impact of local restrictions. This should include measures to compensate clubs for the significant loss of food and beverage revenue by recognising them as hospitality businesses and to recognise Covid-secure environments by raising capacities for clubs significantly disadvantaged by national and local restrictions or else to provide a compensation package appropriate to losses suffered in the same way as provided for the National League.

We also call on other affected clubs to join us in making their voices heard in public and through their local MPs. As three step three clubs we are an irrelevance to those in power but as a block of thousands of grassroots clubs, supporters and constituents we can be heard. Grassroots football must not be abandoned.

Adrian Seddon, Chair of the Board of FC United of Manchester

Geoff Thompson, Chairman of South Shields FC

Trevor Bull, Chairman of Scarborough Athletic FC