Fans are the Super-Sub Non-League Clubs Crave
With the hospitality and events industries still on their knees amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, smaller lower and non-league clubs are finding themselves in more treacherous waters day by day, with a lack of support and income making running a football team nigh impossible.
English football first ground to a halt in mid-march following an array of positive tests from professional footballers and managers, while fans have still not yet been allowed back into stadiums in a bid from the government to limit close contact between people. However, as time goes on the financial affects are becoming increasingly irreversible for lower and non-league clubs such as FC Oswestry Town, who were forced to fold four months into the pandemic:
"The difficult decision has been made due mainly to the Covid pandemic that resulted in the curtailing of the North West Counties League and the FA’s ruling to make the 2019/20 season null and void which robbed us of a hard-earned promotion.
"Financial difficulties due to the denial of promotion to a higher league, no fixtures being played since March and no opportunities to raise funds externally means we are in no position to commit to the forthcoming season."
(FC Oswestry Town Press Release).
In order to stop the regularity of clubs being forced to fold, the people have taken action, mainly in the form of the '#LetFansIn' campaign aimed at reintroducing spectators to football stadiums, in turn offering a financial lifeline to clubs.
The campaign invites the government to take action within the game of football and endeavour to find a safe way of allowing people back into stadiums; something already achieved within the game of cricket, with approximately 1000 spectators allowed into the oval to enjoy the Surrey vs Middlesex two day friendly in late July, a decision which has angered many struggling clubs such as Havant and Waterlooville:
"Non-League football desperately needs fans back in the ground. Clubs at our level and below cannot survive without supporters in the ground and it is nonsensical that cricket games can be played with spectators in next to football matches who can’t.
We implore that this is looked into immediately and should the health factors deem it safe to do so we should #LetFansIn."
In addition to the money spectators would naturally pay to watch a game through ticket sales, should the campaign see spectators allowed back into stadiums, fans will also be relied upon to 'help out' on match days, through encouragement to make purchases from the club bar, merchandise store and picking yourself up a programme.
Furthermore, many fans are also being offered to buy their season tickets for the 2020/21 season early, with the sizeable sum of money potentially embodying the difference between life and death for some clubs at this testing time. Additionally, if supporters begin purchasing their season tickets now it could help persuade others to do the same, with the worry of missing out increasing proactivity.
With the UK now out of lockdown and normal life seemingly back on track, aside from a few changes aimed at decreasing transmission rates, surely there's a safe way to reintroduce fans back into football stadiums? Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently revealed that when fans are allowed back into footballing venues, there may be restrictions on "chanting", which could damage the entertainment factor of watching a live game, theoretically making watching live football a less desirable leisure activity for people, which wouldn't help in the long run.
The introduction of mandatory masks in shops could be extended into football stadiums, protective plastic barriers could be erected between seats, social distancing could be achieved; the longer the government delay the reintroduction of fans while trying to develop complex initiatives aimed at a "safe return", the deeper the wounds become for football clubs.