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

South Shields FC, FC United of Manchester and Scarborough Athletic have today written to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden, to explain their feeling of abandonment as a lack of financial support threatens their very futures.

The letter can be read in full below.

2nd October 2020

Dear Oliver,

We are writing to you today on behalf of three Northern Premier League football clubs: FC United of Manchester, Scarborough Athletic FC and South Shields FC. We operate at step 3 of the Non-League System, the highest level designated as ‘grassroots’ under current Covid regulations, meaning that we are permitted limited crowds.

We have read with interest over the last couple of weeks the developing situation over the National League clubs who made their case that they were not sustainable if forced to play without fans. A widely publicised letter to you on 28th September from MPs and sporting authority figureheads made the case 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 the result of their actions but the policies that have been put in place by the government in response to a public health emergency’. It would appear that the government has listened to that case with the announcement made to the house on Wednesday by Sports Minister Nigel Huddlestone that a funding package had been agreed “to help those most impacted by the 1st October decision” and “will be focused on those most in need and it will be based on the loss of gate receipts”.

We believe that there is a flawed perception that all grassroots football clubs can sustain themselves within the current government restrictions and would agree that this is the case for the vast majority. However, we would draw your attention that a one size fits all approach doesn’t take into account that there are a handful of clubs caught between a now subsidised elite and the grassroots restrictions which are in danger of forcing us out of existence.

Our three clubs are very different but have in common that we are well run and prior to this once in a lifetime Covid emergency, sustainable businesses which focus beyond football on being at the heart of our local communities. Similarly to the National League clubs we provide numerous youngsters with educational and sporting opportunities through our successful academies and we run wide-ranging community projects in our areas. This has included substantial extra support for our communities in response to the current Covid crisis.

The return to football protocols allow for supporters in our grounds in limited numbers well below the levels at which we can be sustainable. Government restrictions allow 600 at our step 3 which is 1,071 spectators below the average crowd at South Shields last season, 1,068 below FC United’s and 401 below Scarborough’s. To put it into context, the number of supporters locked out of our grounds by current restrictions, and therefore our lost gate receipt revenue, for South Shields and FC United is greater than the total average crowd last season of 30 National League clubs and for Scarborough this is greater than three. We would make the point that the situation is unsustainable for our clubs at the current government level of restriction but that is not the end of our problems as some local authorities are now imposing their own restrictions which go beyond what was decided by the DCMS. On the instructions of their local authority, South Shields’ capacity is currently cut to 300 and Scarborough have been forced to start the season behind closed doors.

To compound matters, new regulations brought in last week requiring all food and drink to be purchased and consumed at tables will seriously reduce the food and beverage revenue we also rely on as supporters will no longer be able to take these out on the stands and terraces and we will be restricted to limited seated social club service.

We note with interest your colleague the Sports Minister’s response in the Commons that any club in immediate financial distress should alert their sport’s governing body, which all three of our clubs have repeatedly done through the Northern Premier League since the start of the season, only to be informed yesterday by league chairman Mark Harris that there has been no confirmation of any support for affected clubs below the National League.

We understand that we are only a handful of clubs who have slipped between the cracks of elite and grassroots, but we feel abandoned. We are haemorrhaging more in lost gate receipts, through no fault of our own, than 30 National League clubs who will all receive financial assistance and we lose that revenue match after match, week in week out. We are facing ruin for having business models that rely on high supporter engagement, something which prior to Covid had always been regarded as the way clubs should be run. We would ask you to consider that we are good, sustainable clubs in greater difficulty than many National League clubs. Our clubs matter to us, they matter to our supporters and they matter to our local communities.

We would welcome the opportunity to provide you with detailed financial information to support our request.

Yours sincerely,

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

Emma Lewell-Buck, MP for South Shields

Robert Goodwill, MP for Scarborough and Whitby

Malcolm Clarke, Chairman of the Football Supporters Association

 

CC: Nigel Huddlestone MP, Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage

Mark Bullingham, Chief Executive, the Football Association

A stoppage time penalty from Jason Gilchrist moved South Shields three points clear at the top of the BetVictor Northern Premier Division with a hard-fought yet deserved 2-1 win over Scarborough Athletic at Mariners Park.

Shields came from behind to begin 2020 with a victory as a superb second half display earned them the spoils.

Michael Coulson’s early stunner had given a rejuvenated Seadogs side the lead and it took until five minutes into the second half for Gilchrist to bring the Mariners back on level terms.

He then took the responsibility of the spot-kick a minute into added time after he had been fouled in the box and sent impressive Scarborough goalkeeper Tommy Taylor the wrong way, to the delight of much of the crowd of almost 2,000.

Shields started the game brightly and went close twice in the early stages as Nathan Lowe struck a free-kick over and a low drive from Gilchrist was well held by Taylor.

But it was Scarborough who took the lead 12 minutes in when the ball was won high up the pitch on the right and Coulson brilliantly powered it into the top corner.

The visitors attempted to use the momentum of that opener to press ahead for further goals and went close to finding one as James Walshaw’s shot was well blocked by Jon Shaw.

There were half chances at both ends before Shields started to wrestle the initiative in the closing stages of the first half.

Lowe rifled an effort from 25 yards which Taylor did well to save and Lee Mason also had a shot blocked before Taylor saved from Craig Baxter as he got in behind on the left of the box.

Jordan Hunter also went close as he drilled wide from the edge of the area and more positive play saw Baxter again get in behind before pulling the ball across for Mason, who was denied an open goal by a brilliant clearance.

It took just five minutes into the second half for Shields to grab the equaliser they had been threatening as Hunter drilled a brilliant ball in from the right and it fell to Gilchrist, who turned well before forcing it home.

Shields pressurised Scarborough for much of the remainder of the game and went close a number of times, with a Briggs free-kick being deflected just over in the 55th minute.

At the other end, Coulson blasted a shot not far wide but Scarborough attacks were rare as the Mariners turned the screw.

The hosts introduced new signing Sefton Gonzales from the bench for his debut and he was a constant threat.

He went close twice within moments of coming on, first heading narrowly over before later pouncing on a loose backpass, only for Taylor to scramble the ball clear.

Lowe drilled not far wide from distance, Taylor denied Gilchrist with a superb fingertip save and Shaw had a cross deflected inches wide as Shields were frustrated in their search for a second goal.

Their chances were boosted with nine minutes left as Seadogs left-back Wayne Brooksby was sent off for two quickfire bookings, but it took until the 90th minute for the golden opportunity to arrive as a push on Gilchrist resulted in a penalty.

The Shields frontman stepped up to tuck the spot-kick away and deliver a vital three points for the home side.

The Mariners will look to move further clear at the top when they travel to Ashton United on Saturday.

SOUTH SHIELDS: Boney, Hunter, Baxter, Shaw (c), Brown, Turnbull, Thompson, Briggs (Jenkins 65), Gilchrist (Hodgson 90+2), Lowe, Mason (Gonzales 56). Subs not used: Charlton, Wade.

Goals: Gilchrist (50, pen 90+1).

Attendance: 1,908.

WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.