Non-league football's £14m rescue package - many questions remain from lockdown-hit clubs

Funding help is on the way to Isthmian and Southern Combination football clubs hit by the pandemic – but many questions remain over the government rescue package.

Thursday, 14th January 2021, 7:30 am
Bognor and Burgess Hill are two of the Sussex clubs who will waiting to see what assistance comes their way from the government / Picture: Lyn Phillips

Clubs who have staged little football since the initial lockdown last March – and none since Christmas – are eagerly waiting to find out if and how they will benefit from a £14m sum earmarked for clubs from steps three to six of the non-league set-up.

They are upset they have hard no detail of the funding since the initial announcement - and are worried it will all be available only as loans, which many of them fear they would never be able to afford to repay.

As a new lockdown bites, we have started asking questions of behalf the many Sussex clubs operating at step three (Isthmian premier), four (Isthmian south-east), five (SCFL premier) and six (SCFL division one).

As part of what it labelled the Winter Sport Survival Package, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said £14m would be available for steps three to six. This was in addition to £10m allocated for National League clubs, who have already had money to cover the first part of their season, much of which was played behind closed doors.

Questions we are asking for clubs at Isthmian and SCFL level include:

* What it is the status of this £14m - is it definitely coming, and if so when?

* Some clubs have expressed dismay they have heard nothing about it since the initial announcement - why have they not?

* How much of it will be loans, not grants, given that the feeling on the ground is clubs won’t be able to afford to pay them back unless it is over a very long period of time?

* Who will decide how it is divided between clubs? The leagues, or the FA, or those dishing out the grants?

In response to these questions, Sport England have told us that, as administrators of the fund, they are continuing to work with DCMS and impacted sports on the delivery of the package.

Before Christmas they set up an independent decision-making board as a priority, details of which were made public on December 15.

Formal applications have been invited from a range of impacted organisations – crucially this is focusing on those in most urgent need – and conversations with other eligible organisations will continue over the coming weeks.

Sport England say the independent board have started to consider applications and will be meeting regularly, and a formal announcement of the first phases of confirmed funding is currently planned next week (week of Mon Jan 18).

On the question of ‘loan or grant’, they have indicated this will depend on each individual club’s circumstances and finances.

Sport England have yet to clarify whether leagues or the FA have a role in deciding how much funding goes to a particular club.

We are continuing to ask questions about the distribution of the £14m. Specifically, we have also now asked: Is it up to individual clubs to apply for funding - and if so is there a limit to how much they can apply for? And is there a deadline for them to apply? The same question applies if it is leagues or governing bodies (in this case the FA) who have the responsibility for applying on behalf of all their clubs.