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
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.
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).
WORDS: Daniel Prince. IMAGE: Kev Wilson.
South Shields will look to get 2020 off to a positive start when they welcome Scarborough Athletic to Mariners Park on New Year’s Day.
The Mariners go into the new year sitting top of the BetVictor Northern Premier Division but with a clutch of sides in hot pursuit behind them.
Scarborough, meanwhile, are 11th in the table and could move to within two points of the play-off positions if they win and other results go their way.
The Seadogs have been much-improved under new manager Darren Kelly, and earned an impressive 1-0 win over Morpeth Town last time out.
It promises to be a close and intriguing match at Mariners Park.
Shields joint manager Graham Fenton said: “We haven’t had an easy game against Scarborough previously and we’re not expecting anything different this time.
“It will be good for us to be back at Mariners and hopefully we can get back to winning ways.
“Going into the new year we can look ahead to the second half of the season, and if we can improve on our first half tally of points we will be very hard to defeat.”
Shields have new striker Sefton Gonzales available after his move to the club was ratified on New Year’s Eve.
They also hope to welcome back Gary Brown, Phil Turnbull and Myles Boney, although the game has come too soon for injured trio Blair Adams, Luke Daly and Josh Gillies.
Kick-off at Mariners Park is at 3pm and discounted tickets can be bought until midnight the night before the match by clicking here.
Supporters will also be able to pay for admission at the turnstiles at a cost of £10 for adults, £8 for students and over-65s, and £3 for under-16s.
The usual Happy Hours will be in operation between 12.30pm and 1.30pm, and from 5pm to 6pm. The turnstiles will open at 12.30pm.