Urgent help needed: Eastbourne Borough tell MP National League season is at risk

Eastbourne Borough are asking town MP Caroline Ansell to lobby for an urgent change of mind from the government over crucial funding for their level of football.

Wednesday, 20th January 2021, 2:03 pm
Updated Wednesday, 20th January 2021, 2:06 pm
Will Priory Lane see any more National League football this season?

They are among National League clubs saying that if an £11m package for their three divisions comes as loans and not grants, many clubs will not be able to play on - and some could fold.

Ironically, it is claimed, an £11m grant for the 66 clubs in the league would be less than the furlough money the government will have to pay if clubs shut down for the season.

David Blackmore, the club's CIC Chairman, has said clubs are grateful for grants that came to get them through the early part of the season - but their clear understanding was that the second half of the season would be funded in the same way if fans were still not back in grouns.

This is his full letter to the MP:

"Dear Caroline

I am writing on behalf of our Football Club, and the community which we serve, to seek your support on a matter that could jeopardize the future of our club, and that of the of the National League, for the current season, and for some Clubs including our own, generally.

As you are aware, we were, and still are, extremely grateful for all the support given to the club, and indeed the National League, back in September and October to secure the necessary funding for the three divisions of the National League to commence on the 3rd October. You may recall that we had sought a £20 million package to cover the 66 community clubs and the DCMS very kindly arranged for the payment of £10 million pounds to be paid as grant funds via a deal with Camelot.

At the time the League, and Clubs, were told that this was to cover the first three months of our season, October to December, with a review at the end, but that if supporters were still not able to be admitted this would roll over for a further period. The League, and Clubs, commenced the season on that basis. Making the decision to commence the season triggered a commitment from the Clubs for the entire season, much of which is in player and staff costs.

Unfortunately, the DCMS are now offering to finance the League with a further £11 million to cover the current three-month period, from January to March, but by way of loans to Clubs, not grants as previously inferred.

All the Clubs are greatly appreciative of the support they have received over the past three months, but I really fear that the league, and its Clubs, are now in a much more perilous position than they were back in September. Because of the pandemic many Clubs recruited players before September with contracts that only became effective once the season kicked-off and are therefore now liable for these costs for the remainder of this season. These contracts were only triggered because of decisions made with the commitment of grant funding for as long as supporters were not able to attend matches.

Clubs are obviously still losing revenue because of the Behind Closed Doors broad impact on spectator, hospitality, and sponsorship revenues, and judging by Ministerial comments over the weekend we are unlikely to see a return of spectators before April or even May. In addition to this, all other revenue streams at our club are also curtailed due to national restrictions in place preventing our clubhouse being open, youth football taking place, or any other leisure activities that would normally have generated an income for us. This means that like all Clubs, we currently have virtually a normal non COVID-19 level of costs, due to players and coaching staff wages, but with no income. The impact of that is extremely perilous for many Clubs, including our own.

The desire of the DCMS to assist is admirable, and I do appreciate that the calls on Government assistance are eye-watering, however, the goal posts are being moved mid-season. The reality is that only grants, not loans, provide any real compensation for the actual losses incurred due to the significant impact of playing behind closed doors. These losses can never be recovered, and as such it would be irresponsible and negligent to take out loans that could not be repaid.

Unfortunately, the indications from the clubs are, that without grant funding many would now vote to finish the season. Should this happen some of the community clubs, without a major benefactor, would face permanent closure, but at the very least the efforts of so many and the £10 million already paid in grants would effectively be wasted. It would also place in jeopardy all the fantastic community work that takes place throughout our club and the community we serve.

Perversely, if we were to stop playing nearly all the staff would be entitled to be furloughed. The National League has calculated that the furlough payments available over the next three months would exceed the £11 million being offered in loans and is estimated to be more than £14m.

As before, time is not on our side. Clubs will have salary runs and HMRC payments to make over the next 10 days. I would therefore ask if you would again lobby the DCMS on our behalf to prevent the whole National League crumbling before our very eyes.

Yours sincerely, David Blackmore, Eastbourne Borough FC CIC Chairman"