FOOTBALL’S PLACE IN TIMES OF CRISIS Gazette Column

Updated: Jun 16, 2020

These are strange, and frightening times. Pandemic is a scary word whenever you hear it, but the scenes in Northern Italy at the moment as one of the world’s biggest nations struggles to cope would give anyone pause for thought.


One word that many politicians are using freely at the moment is “community”. Quite rightly, they argue that we will get through these difficulties more easily together, than apart. And although football clubs may not seem high on the list of priorities for us to worry about, they do nevertheless deserve some thought at this difficult time.


The best football clubs are very much at the heart of their community. One only has to look at our good friends at Everton to see this; their reaction to the recent troubles has been to re-double their efforts to provide support to the neediest in their local community (and in Walton, Kirkdale, Crosby and Bootle, that is VERY needy). They do so by facilitating initiatives like Foodbanks and set an example that other clubs would do well to follow.


Of course, the clubs have to survive themselves in order to fulfill that role, and the suspension of elite football in Europe has sharply emphasised just how vulnerable some clubs are when the normal lines of revenue are cut off. Senior figures at clubs like Rochdale and Accrington have warned us all of the possible consequences for them. Clubs as disparate as Sligo Rovers and Barnet are already in trouble, with the latter this week preparing to lay off all their non-footballing staff as their money runs out. They will probably not be the only clubs who are on the edge of a financial precipice at the moment.


BST have been very critical of the footballing authorities in the past, but much of what they are doing at the moment seems sensible. What happens vis a vis the 2019/20 season is of less interest to Blackpool fans than most, but the clear determination to see this season through - however long that takes - is at least a very clear and equitable stance. It means that those clubs who do have a lot at stake - and currently on hold - at least know where they stand.


In the same vein, the EFL’s financial support package for clubs, announced this week, is very welcome. Although £50 million only goes so far, the statement of intent that underlies it is very important. When the game is able to resume - and on what basis - remains to be settled but at least there seems to be a broad consensus about the direction of travel.


Of course, it is not only clubs who suffer. Anyone who travels away from home to watch the club using public transport will know that the overnight suspension of matches causes many fans significant financial issues. Train tickets are suddenly invalid, hotel bookings need to be cancelled, ticket money spent is suddenly “dead money”.


In this regard, the Football Supporters Association (FSA) continues to lobby hard at the national level, and have w