The Government’s decision to press pause on the return of spectators to sports venues from the start of next month due to a rise in coronavirus infections has created an existential threat to clubs up and down the country.
Here, the PA news agency gets the thoughts of Rochdale chief executive David Bottomley on the impact of the Government’s move and a Premier League rescue package for the English Football League.
“The news came like the biggest blow you’ve ever had to the solar plexus in your life because since the decision was taken by the English Football League to give us a season start date we have worked towards that.
When the Government said eight weeks ago crowds could come back from October 1 with conditions, a group of people at this football club and every other football club will have done the same work.
A huge amount of bureaucracy, red tape, around about a £35,000 investment in getting the stadium ready to be Covid-safe, everything from hand sanitisers to correct footprints and marking seats, all the hoops we’ve had to jump through, and we were willing to do that because we wanted to create a safe and good environment of social distancing.
For the Government to say ‘no, you can’t do that any more’ was a crushing disappointment. A lot of people have worked so hard to get to that point, and it was so exciting. Football behind closed doors is not anywhere near as good as playing in front of a crowd. Any form of crowds was going to be good.
To put it in the financial perspective, we’re between a £6-7million turnover business and if the Covid regulations that the Government were planning had stayed in place from October to the end of the season we were already looking at a £2m loss.
So to take it away completely we’re looking at a huge loss. Now, I’m not going to say it’s catastrophic but it now needs some severe thinking of which direction we point the ship in next in order to make sure we survive.
What the Government have done with this announcement is to put into question the very future of the pyramid of professional football in the UK.
It’s a complete surprise and one we’re not going to take lying down, because we’re now lobbying our local MP and lobbying the English Football League because we’re saying ‘what’s the difference between one of our executive boxes with six people in who are in a bubble, being served, what’s the difference between that and a pub or a restaurant?’
We as a club have a lot of confidence in the English Football League and the board of the EFL, and we are assured from a senior level that some form of rescue package will be in place.
There has to be something that comes forward, whether it’s long-term loans. All the clubs have some responsibility to help ourselves get through this crisis and I think inevitably that may lead to talks with the Professional Footballers’ Association.
Every club at our level, the highest cost base is the players, so I’m not ruling out in the next month that clubs won’t be talking to footballers. A lot of clubs were in a fairly precarious position before this announcement was made but having some form of crowds coming back would have at least given them some income.
I’m not trying to make any enemies within the Premier League, but to question how well-run clubs at our level should spend what would be a loan, we would take almost as an insult. The Premier League is an organisation where I believe the Sky deal last year was worth £3billion, of which £2.9bn was paid out in player wages alone, so please don’t question how a well-run club like Rochdale would spend money.
There will be a lot of season ticket holders who won’t just accept an iFollow pass in return for the season, I understand that.
A lot of season ticket holders may also be people who are financially challenged in this terrible situation. Fan loyalty is a huge thing.
I think we as football clubs need to appeal to the wider communities to say how important football clubs are. I’m not asking people to come forward just merely to pay wages but to support clubs and to keep it going.
A football club is for life, not just for a season. We’ve been around for nearly 100 years as a Football League club, lots of clubs bring great credit and publicity to the community they operate in, and every club in the EFL has a community trust operation attached to it that go out into communities and do a lot more activities than just football.
We’ve got to appeal to supporters to be loyal to us, and to appeal to the people in the community who perhaps only check the result at 5 o’clock on a Saturday, and recognise that those clubs are very important to the community.”