Context is everything normally except that the Season in this context is both Spring and Football all rolled into one! Of course, the Football Season these days stretches to close on ten months if you take pre-season friendlies into account unlike Spring which normally follows three months of Winter and officially begins on March 1st.
This Football Season has seemed an interminable one. There were always going to be more games than normal with the Bostik Premier Division expanded to 24 teams. Add in the various cup games that each team is expected to participate in and you have well over 50 matches to be played assuming a team gets knocked out of each cup in the first game. Any form of cup run and the games a team is expected to play at the non-league level rapidly climbs to over 60.
Every year now we hear managers and players of Premier League teams whinging about having to play 3 or 4 matches over the Christmas and New Year period. Wingate & Finchley had 6 fixtures in that same period and, unlike the Premier League players, had to do their day jobs as well! Meanwhile the Premier League clubs get richer and richer on the TV payments. If you dance with the Devil, sooner or later he’s going to want your soul or at least a set of fixtures for the armchair fans to watch on their satellite TV box over Christmas! Time to stop complaining Premier League 😦
While money from TV companies floods into the upper echelons of UK football, very little dribbles down to teams in the non-league setup. That leaves some clubs running on a shoestring while others rely on rich benefactors. In our league Billericay Town have been bought by a guy who has thrown ‘Loads a Money’ at them with the intention of getting the club promoted. That wouldn’t be an issue normally – we’ve seen it before at various levels in the game. But this guy is a self promoting narcissist and continuously issues embarrassing tweets. Then, when it all goes wrong we see the toys thrown out of the pram in a hissy-fit. A good example of this is the Billericay U23 side – they weren’t doing well in the U23 league so he’s disbanded them. Perhaps that speaks volumes for his true commitment to Billericay in the long term? I’ll wait and see but in the meantime a respected club has been turned into a circus.
Talking of dancing with the Devil, Dulwich Hamlet have found themselves in a battle with Meadow Residential over their ground. Property companies sometimes work with local councils to combine provision of much needed housing with community sports facilities. Often this can safeguard a club’s ground as a local amenity, injecting much needed cash. Unfortunately, it now seems that Meadow Residential had a longer term hidden agenda. Dulwich Hamlet find themselves locked out of their ground with all sorts of nasty tricks being carried out by solicitors on behalf of Meadow. The club is fighting back and have found a lot of support from the rest of the non-league community. The issue has been debated in Parliament as MP’s have been lobbied and we may see changes in property law to protect community assets from greedy property investors like Meadow Residential. On a personal level, I wrote to my MP and he has promised to raise the issue with the Sports Minister. Meanwhile, we have yet to see any sign that football’s governing body care about anything below the Premier League. What have you been doing to help Dulwich Hamlet, FA? – Oh, that is what you’ve been doing 😦 You can read about Dulwich Hamlet here.
There are a couple of other clubs currently in trouble in our league. Lowestoft Town couldn’t pay their players in January and have announced that they are in financial difficulties. Closer to home, Thurrock have announced that unless a buyer can be found they will fold at the end of the season when their current owner Tommy South retires for health reasons. Leiston may also have issues bubbling below the surface – a recent club statement included an intriguing line about ‘living beyond our means to maintain current performances’ as they urged more fans to come to matches.
My readers may be wondering what it costs to run a non-league club? Well, that depends on the approach you take but it ought to be governed by how many fans you can expect through the turnstiles on average through a season. From recent info I understand the Wingate & Finchley’s budget is £6K per month. Dulwich Hamlet’s is around £30k per month. The difference is explained by attendances – they get around 2000 fans per game compared with our 150!. Billericay’s budget earlier in the season was reputedly £25k per week! Even with attendances boosted to around 450, that probably is not sustainable in the long term but shows how sometimes money gets thrown at a club to achieve short term glory by new owners. Sadly, when the money goes away, clubs usually crash back down through the divisions.
I started off by mentioning spring! Spring has brought snow and ice which together have made a joke of an already congested fixture list. Normally we start a season playing two matches per week. Then, by mid-November we’re on a single match each week with the occasional midweek match for a postponed fixture. This season we’ve had two games a week almost all the way through apart from a week when no football was possible due to the weather. And it looks like that will continue until the end of the season now! Add in the U23 matches and your humble scribe has been having a busy time on camera duties for the club. That has taken its toll personally. I have had a couple of health issues around my joints resulting in periods when I couldn’t walk properly. In turn that goes part way towards explaining my sporadic blog posts of late. I’ve now got a supply of Solgar 7 and Cod Liver Oil to combat those joint issues 😉
Next season will see the leagues at our level being re-organised to create an additional set of divisions and reduce the number of teams back down to 22 in the Bostik Premier. Hopefully that will reduce the fixture pressure a bit. It’s also supposed to reduce the amount of travelling that the clubs have to do – though somehow I doubt it will. The possibility of travelling to Portsmouth seems every bit as far as going to Lowestoft! 😦 But I guess it’s good to end with some evidence that the FA do actually know that the non-league exists and is the important grass-roots base of all football in England 😉
Here’s some photos of the Under 23’s in action on an appalling Wednesday night in February..