Football’s financial crisis: game is ‘unsustainable’ without fans

How the English leagues and clubs reacted to the government’s announcement

Aylesbury Vale Dynamos vs. Bovingdon FC at an empty Greenfleets Stadium
How the English leagues and clubs reacted to the government’s announcement
(Image credit: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images )

Clubs from all levels of the English football pyramid are facing a financial crisis after the government postponed its plan for fans to return to sports stadiums in October.

It had previously been hoped that a limited number of supporters would be allowed back into grounds next month as part of a pilot scheme. However, following a surge in coronavirus cases Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove told BBC Breakfast that the plan has now been called off.

Speaking in the Commons today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that sports fans in England will not yet be allowed back into live events.

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He said: “We have to acknowledge the spread of the virus is now affecting our ability to reopen large sporting events.

“We will not be able to do this from 1 October and I recognise the implications for our sports clubs, which are the life and soul of our communities. The chancellor and the culture secretary are working urgently on what we can do now to support them.”

Johnson also said the measures being announced would remain in place for “perhaps six months”, the Independent reports.

‘Devastating impact’

In reaction to the news, the Premier League said it was “disappointed” and warned that a lack of fans in stadiums is having a “devastating” financial impact for clubs across the country.

Premier League teams suffered £700m in losses last season and the league says the national game is losing more than £100m per month.

“The Premier League notes the government’s announcement today and while the health of the nation must remain everyone’s priority, we are disappointed that the safe return of supporters to matches has been postponed,” the statement read.

“The Premier League is certain that, through league-wide guidelines and a code of conduct developed with scientific experts and agreed by the government’s Sports Ground Safety Authority, fans in stadiums will be as safe or even safer than at any other public activity currently permitted. This is already evident in other European leagues.

“Football is not the same without attending fans and the football economy is unsustainable without them. Last season, Premier League clubs suffered £700m in losses and at present, our national game is losing more than £100m per month. This is starting to have a devastating impact on clubs and their communities.”

‘Real issues’ in non-league football

England’s football pyramid is “crumbling” below the Premier League, Football365 reports. And at non-league level clubs face going bust if fans are not allowed back.

BBC Sport understands that the start of the National League season on 3 October could now be delayed. The National League, the three highest non-league divisions in England, will consult with clubs and a decision is expected at a board meeting on Thursday.

Chesterfield chief executive John Croot was “astonished” when he heard that the plans for October had been scrapped. He said clubs are struggling to survive and many could be weeks away from “real issues”.

“I just saw it on television like millions of other people and hundreds of our supporters,” he told BBC Radio Sheffield. “It was the first I had heard of it and nobody in the club had any idea that bombshell was coming our way.

“We’re OK financially for the time being. Speaking to other clubs there are some out there who are weeks away from real issues.”

No communication

Dover Athletic chairman Jim Parmenter says the National League club will “oppose any attempt to start the season behind closed doors”.

He said: “While the government have communicated with the nation, there has been no direct engagement with football clubs by them, the FA or National League - we still do not know what the plans are.

“The board have been working hard to ensure the club stays viable, although this is another setback to our efforts and inevitably this will involve further consultation with our staff.

“Supporters can be assured that we are doing everything we can to ensure the survival of the club and we are taking every possible step to ensure we are ready for when fans are able to come back to the ground.

“At present, we do not know what the plans for the league season are, but we believe that the most likely outcome is a delay to the start of the fixtures. Unless funding is provided by the government, football behind closed doors is not sustainable at our level.”

Portsmouth chief executive Mark Catlin says the League One club should be able to cope with playing matches behind closed doors, but he has “graver concerns for the wider football community”.

He said: “Someone urgently needs to give clubs options for how they can get themselves out of this financial hole.”

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Mike Starling is the digital features editor at The Week, where he writes content and edits the Arts & Life and Sport website sections and the Food & Drink and Travel newsletters. He started his career in 2001 in Gloucestershire as a sports reporter and sub-editor and has held various roles as a writer and editor at news, travel and B2B publications. He has spoken at a number of sports business conferences and also worked as a consultant creating sports travel content for tourism boards. International experience includes spells living and working in Dubai, UAE; Brisbane, Australia; and Beirut, Lebanon.