Eastbourne Borough boss expects non-league landscape to undergo major changes
This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the Sports’ dramatic away win at Burgess Hill to clinch the County League title for the first time – truly a milestone match.
It was the springboard into the daunting but exciting arena of semi-professional football. On the fixture list, gigantic Chelmsford City replaced homely Chichester City, and faraway Histon (in Cambridgeshire, since you ask) replaced neighbours Hailsham Town.
Two decades on, Borough are a part of the non-League landscape, known and respected far and wide. But when we finally emerge from the Covid-19 nightmare, will that landscape have changed?
Sports boss Danny Bloor has a view. “We’re all longing for a bit of normality, but it will be a different normality. In recent years clubs have often been outbidding each other to spend the biggest budgets. Now, the key words will be survival and realism.
“We will all have to recalibrate. A club like Eastbourne Borough has been built on careful planning and good housekeeping, and that will be doubly important. We had already begun that process, following our internal financial issues.
“Players will have to be realistic about the wages a club can afford. The clubs themselves must stay within their means and not chase glory.”
For Bloor, it is not just about financial health. “Ironically this terrible crisis is making us rethink what we are about, and what matters to us. All of our local clubs in their different ways have grown up with the town.
“They know their roots, and I hope that’s true of us at Priory Lane too. This is the time to reconnect with supporters.”
Those are not empty words. In recent weeks, Danny has been calling supporters for a chat and a number of his players have been doing the same, or putting out positive social media messages.
“It’s not especially about football, just about an amiable chat and a friendly voice. We can all do that – caring for each other costs nothing.
“Usually, in football at any level, it’s all about the players. Maybe the fans are taken a little bit for granted. Well, now we want to turn the spotlight around and shine it on the wonderful people who support us – and our other local sides – week in, week out.
“So I think, as we battle through this, football can rediscover its soul. Right now I want to wish every single supporter and every volunteer in local football the happiest Easter that you can possibly have. And when we get our football back, never mind the social distancing, we will hug and hug!”
Now for the practical questions.
The non-league network is log-jammed right now, with no clear agreement on the pathways of promotion and relegation, nor on any timescale. If Danny were chief executive in the National League, what would he do next?
“Well, I’m not sure I’d want the job! Firstly, there is is no plan that will please everyone. We are virtually certain that Borough will be in the National South next season, whatever solution is produced. But if you are league leaders Wealdstone, or Barrow at the top of the National Leauge, you have a very different agenda.
“We can’t ignore the practicalities. If, for example, Borough were suddenly asked to re-start this season and finish our fixtures, we’d have nightmares.
“My contracted players are technically free agents at the start of June. I have three players currently on loan from EFL clubs. And we haven’t played or trained together for a month. How do I put a side together?
“I know that the leagues below us – steps three to six – have major concerns and I feel for them. But this can really only be solved from the top down.
“Until we have a clear and definite steer from the EFL, the National League can’t take unilateral decisions. So be patient a little bit longer, have faith, and meanwhile stay safe!”