“There was no consultation, absolutely outrageous, someone just pressed a button and sent an email.” Covid-19 and Grassroots Football, Beckenham Town and beyond

By Les Crang

In March 2020, Beckenham Town FC sat top of the Southern Counties East League Premier Division. On 25th March the National League asked the Football Association to close the season, making it null and void. (Non-league football: National League asks Football Association to close season, 2020).

Beckenham Town Chairman Paul Faires made the above comment (Cawdell, 2020) having personally invested in the club for many years. The longer term impact on the club and his own position isn’t clear, but the short term financial impact has been hard felt.

Beckenham is one of the older non-league clubs, first affiliated to the Kent Football Association in 1887. It is rooted in the local community with a thriving junior club of 28 boys and girls teams from U7 to U18. Its clubhouse is used by the local community.

Beckenham Town have recently started a Gofundme account (Help support Beckenham Town FC, 2020) to raise £2,500 to help pay for improvements to club facilities due to lost revenue through attendance predominantly. 

Beckenham is a microcosm of the impact that Covid-19 is having on non-league teams. Faires is one among 60 chairmen asking the League to reconsider their actions (Cawdell, 2020), especially as it is likely to be at odds with the treatment of league football.

The list below is an indication of some of the other clubs in the UK and Ireland who are involved in similar fundraising. These are not all ‘small’ clubs either (Dundalk in Ireland, Altrincham and Grantham etc) but they have the same issue in common, a need for cash because no cash is flowing due to the early closure of the season.

ClubGofundme link
Penistone Church FC  https://www.gofundme.com/f/5kzatt-5000
Whitstable Town FC Supporters and Community  https://www.gofundme.com/f/whitstable-town-fc-supporters-and-community
Alty FC Donation  https://www.gofundme.com/f/alty-fc-donation
  Fan Fundraising for Dundalk FChttps://www.gofundme.com/f/fundraising-for-dundalk-fc
Billericay Covid-19 Support  https://www.gofundme.com/f/kv9rt6-covid19-support
Didcot Town FC  https://www.gofundme.com/f/didcot-town-fc
Farnborough FC Fundraiser – Next Season’s Ticket  https://www.gofundme.com/f/farnborough-fc-fundraiser
Ramsbottom United fc Covid-19 loss of finances  https://www.gofundme.com/f/ramsbottom-united-fc-covid19-loss-of-finances
Help keep Newhaven FC going during COVID-19https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-keep-newhaven-fc-going-during-covid19
Help White Notley FC through Covid-19  https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-white-notley-fc-through-covid19
Grantham Town FChttps://www.gofundme.com/f/grantham-town-fc
Help secure the future of Ashford United FC  https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-secure-the-future-of-ashford-united-fc
Durkar Devils JFC / FC  https://www.gofundme.com/f/durkar-devils-jfc-fc
Stockwood wanderers fc  https://www.gofundme.com/f/stockwood-wanderers-fc
Abbey Hey FC  https://www.gofundme.com/f/abbey-hey-fc
Ashville FC – Keep your club afloat  https://www.gofundme.com/f/ashville-fc-keep-your-club-afloat
Rotherfield FC Crowdfund  https://www.gofundme.com/f/rotherfield-fc-crowdfund
International Support for Football Players (CO)https://www.gofundme.com/f/international-solidarity-football-players-colombia
Closure of the club during the corona virus  https://www.gofundme.com/f/closure-of-the-club-during-the-corona-virus

There is likely to be an ongoing impact from Covid-19 on clubs like Beckenham Town, seven as social isolation measures are gradually eased. What will be the ‘new normal’ for non league teams (Patel-Carstairs, 2020)? The NHS is planning for a further spike in cases this year, and possibly another next Spring. And we don’t yet know when a vaccine will be found and rolled out.

The Football Collective has some helpful resources looking at the potential impact on local communities from a possible decline in non-league and some women’s clubs.

The FBC Sessions: Eleanor Drywoor, Francesca Champ and Beth Clarkson join Alex Culvin online panel discussion looks at the impact on the mental welfare of players, staff and supporters due to loss of earnings, poor fitness, lost social interaction etc.

Dan Parnell and James Reade discussed the wider impact on communities in ‘Forget the Premier League, it’s Grassroots football that we need to preserve!’ (Parnell and Reade, 2020), where they argue :-

A more physically active population is a healthier population, and one with fewer lifestyle-related diseases imposing costs upon the state via healthcare. A society with more outlets for the energies of people, especially younger people, is surely one where crime rates are lower, incarceration rates lower, and hence again costs on the state are reduced. Football, which appeals to all ages and genders, is surely a cost-effective investment to mitigate both of these costs – as well as bringing social benefits to individuals and communities across the land.

Sean Ingle in his article ‘Premier League will survive lockdown – it’s the rest of sport we should worry about’ (2020) wrote :-

Sport England is already highlighting that the trend for those in lower socioeconomic groups to be less active appears to be growing during the pandemic – with research already showing that people on low incomes are finding it harder than normal to be active.

We should therefore also be thinking about the impact on people from not having access to football, and sport more generally, to watch, play, coach or whatever. Be that due to longer term social distancing measures or, for example, the impact of widespread fear and agoraphobia after the pandemic is over (Kluger, 2020).

In conclusion then, the future is fraught with concerns. The loss of Fylde women’s team (Wrack, 2020) and the winding up order of Rhyl FC (Rhyl FC Belle Vue Ltd commences formal winding up procedures, 2020) are early examples of what may be coming. With a lack of revenue from attendance, sponsorship, memberships, bar and hire revenues and more, this is bound to worsen.

As academics, we could, and should, look to do something about this. Jo Cable recently set up a Football Collective Slack channel to share ideas.

*On monday 18th  of – As part of our FBC Sessions we are running a number of grassroots football specials #GrassrootsFootball Each session will discuss a range of topics and research related to grassroots football. Joining this session for a 2pm (BST) kick off: Dave Webber, Sean Hamil, Jim Keoghan, Les Crang and chaired by Josh Dean

References

  1. BBC Sport. 2020. Non-League Football: National League Asks Football Association To Close Season. [online] Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/52039174&gt; [Accessed 17 April 2020].
  2. Cawdell, L., 2020. Clubs Call On FA To Reconsider. [online] Kent Online. Available at: <https://www.kentonline.co.uk/herne-bay/sport/clubs-call-on-fa-to-reconsider-224831/&gt; [Accessed 17 April 2020].
  3. Cawdell, L., 2020. Riled Chairman Speaks Out. [online] Kent Online. Available at: <https://www.kentonline.co.uk/medway/sport/riled-chairman-speaks-out-224709/&gt; [Accessed 17 April 2020].
  4. gofundme.com. 2020. Help Support Beckenham Town FC. [online] Available at: <https://www.gofundme.com/f/support-the-becks?utm_medium=email&utm_source=customer&utm_campaign=p_email%2B5102-48hr-donor-share&gt; [Accessed 2 May 2020].
  5. Ingle, S., 2020. Premier League Will Survive Lockdown – It’s The Rest Of Sport We Should Worry About | Sean Ingle. [online] The Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2020/apr/26/premier-league-football-will-survive-lockdown-coronavirus-gyms-leisure-centres-basketball&gt; [Accessed 3 May 2020].
  6. KLUGER, J., 2020. How Coronavirus Fear Is Hitting The OCD Community. [online] Time. Available at: <https://time.com/5808278/coronavirus-anxiety/&gt; [Accessed 3 May 2020].
  7. Parnell, D. and Reade, J., 2020. Forget The Premier League, It’S Grassroots Football That We Need To Preserve!. [online] The Football Collective. Available at: <https://footballcollective.org.uk/2020/04/21/forget-the-premier-league-its-grassroots-football-that-we-need-to-preserve/&gt; [Accessed 3 May 2020].
  8. Parnell, D., Widdop, P., Bond, A. and Wilson, R., 2020. COVID-19, networks and sport. Managing Sport and Leisure, pp.1-7.
  9. Patel-Carstairs, S., 2020. Coronavirus: ‘The New Normal’ – This Is How The UK Might Operate Once Lockdown Is Eased. [online] Sky News. Available at: <https://news.sky.com/story/coronavirus-what-might-our-new-normal-look-like-when-the-uk-lockdown-is-eased-11979256&gt; [Accessed 3 May 2020].
  10. Rhylfc.co.uk. 2020. Rhyl FC Belle Vue Ltd Commences Formal Winding Up Procedures. [online] Available at: <https://www.rhylfc.co.uk/news/rhyl-fc-belle-vue-ltd-commences-formal-winding-up-procedures&gt; [Accessed 3 May 2020].
  11. Stokes, M., 2020. National League Plan To Call A Halt. [online] Kent Online. Available at: <https://www.kentonline.co.uk/dover/sport/national-league-plan-to-call-a-halt-224481/&gt; [Accessed 17 April 2020].
  12. Wrack, S., 2020. AFC Fylde Women’s Team Disbanded After Club Takes ‘Tough Decision’. [online] The Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/football/2020/apr/28/afc-fylde-womens-team-disbanded-after-club-takes-tough-decision&gt; [Accessed 3 May 2020].

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