The Grey Neutral: Viral symptoms

FOOTBALL is still living in a surreal world, desperately trying to restart, if only to appease sponsors and backers, but knowing all too well that one setback could derail all plans. While the top clubs will be able to navigate the uncertainty, the situation is very precarious for small Football League members and also the little clubs at the heart of the game.

Non-league’s broken model

We should all fear for non-league football. Unlike big-time clubs that have diverse revenue streams, gate money is a huge chunk of their income – and it has dried up completely. There’s no point whatsoever in playing non-league games behind closed doors, so it would seem likely that it will be a long time before we see a return to action.

Safe distancing should not be a problem for most non-league clubs, but how will anyone justify allowing local football to proceed when most other activities have been curtailed in towns around the country? The reason top flight football has been given the go ahead is an economic decision – broadcasters have paid their fee, they want something back in return. If TV revenues were not at stake, it is doubtful the game would be resuming.

What is non-league to do? It is possible that we have seen the end of non-league as it was – in other words, paying players at certain levels must surely come to an end. Travel expenses are also something that has to be looked at. Greater regionalisation/localisation would surely cut back some of the costs clubs have to contend with. Of course, they can plead poverty and ask for help, but the easiest way to slash outgoings – in future – is to dispense with wages and minimise travel. In the meantime, the damage to non-league football could be vast, with a lot of clubs having to fold.

The return to “amateur” status is something a lot of clubs will fight against, but a lot of detached folk still believe non-league is indeed run on Corinthian ideals. How many times have you heard TV presenters refer to non-league clubs as “amateur”. They look at a club with 350 spectators and find it hard to believe that players are actually getting paid. For too long, too many clubs have lived beyond their means.

Game of the People has long advocated a shift to spectator-owned or genuine community clubs, and by that we mean clubs where the community has a stake and a voice. “Community” should not merely be a way to grab grants or gain easy PR. The coronavirus crisis should be an opportunity to change what is now in danger of being a broken model.

Season tickets – for what?

Clubs selling season tickets may be a little hasty in their bid to raise money. How can a club seriously sell tickets for 2020-21 when we really do not know when the game, as a spectator sport, will return? We are all expecting a second wave of the coronavirus, which will probably mean another lockdown and the suspension of football – if indeed it ever gets underway again in 2020. Understandably, clubs are eager to replenish lost income, but let’s not forget there are thousands of people who have unfinished seasons and are, in theory, owed money for the 2019-20 campaign.

Liverpool and Manchester

According to YouGov, Liverpool are the most popular club in the United Kingdom, followed by Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United. This sounds quite hard to believe, although globalisation and the cosmopolitan nature of Britain have both contributed to two non-UK teams finishing above everyone bar the Premier champions-elect.

Liverpool’s rise to the top of the YouGov table is down to a number of key factors – their exciting team, their popular manager and the decline of Manchester United in recent years. The fan mood around United is quite negative (a rating of 31%). Only one club, Chelsea, has a higher negative rating (33%). Other clubs who have fallen away and therefore have relatively high levels of negative sentiment are Arsenal (30%), Manchester City (30%) and Tottenham (24%). Liverpool’s negativity runs to 22%. In general, the bigger clubs have more gloom and doom merchants and that’s because of high levels of expectation.

Liverpool may be on the brink of winning the Premier League, which will be something of a hollow triumph without the fans and may yet be a title with an asterisk. The latest news is not good about Liverpool and Manchester. The so-called “R rate”, in other words, the rate of infection, is rising in both cities and there’s talk of a renewed lockdown. If that were the case, will Liverpool be able to play their remaining Premier games? Somebody may be wishing now that they’d called it a day and decided the season on points-per-game.




Photo: PA



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