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National League clubs are in desperate need of a Government-led bailout to survive

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With all football throughout England currently suspended, there is now a huge worry that clubs in the lower reaches of the country’s footballing pyramid will struggle to stay afloat. 

Teams in the Premier League - whose main source of income is obtained through major deals with television broadcasters - do not have to rely on matchday revenue to get by, and can therefore keep their heads firmly above water until football is eventually able to resume, whenever that may be.

It is a similar situation for clubs in the EFL Championship, albeit to a lesser degree. With Sky Sports broadcasting a number of second-tier matches every week, there is a vast amount of capital provided to clubs in the Championship, placing less emphasis on revenue made from ticket sales and food/drink purchases on matchdays. 

Teams from EFL League One and League Two do not receive such luxuries, however, with much fewer matches from the lower divisions in England being shown live on TV throughout the domestic season. 

To combat potential losses incurred by clubs from the Championship, League One and League Two due to the current coronavirus pandemic, the EFL announced on Tuesday that they will be making £50m available in the form of a short-term emergency relief fund, for any clubs struggling to cope financially in this period of uncertainty. 

The fund includes the early release of award payments, and an interest-free loan facility. 

Under the terms of the relief fund, Championship clubs received their remaining £800,000 award payment from the Premier League on Thursday. In addition, they will be able to apply for a £584,000 interest-free loan.

Clubs from League One will be eligible for £250,000 and £183,000 respectively, while sides from League Two will receive £164,000 and £120,000.

Indeed, there is no such fund available for clubs competing in England’s non-league system. Although the National League is now a professional league made up of predominantly full-time members, each of those clubs are very much operating on a hand-to-mouth basis and rely solely on revenue generated through fixtures being fulfilled each week. 

Non-league football clubs in the National League and relevant leagues below rely on ticket sales and supporters purchasing refreshments on matchdays to stay afloat, alongside raffle ticket sales and other forms of smaller money-making schemes. Without any games taking place, though, all of that potential revenue is lost, leaving these clubs in real financial turmoil. 

Salaries for both on and off-field playing staff still need to be paid despite fixtures not taking place, as do sizeable tax bills and, with no cash-flow running through these clubs at this moment in time, the question facing most is: How are we going to survive? 

Barnet, of the National League Premier division - Step 5 of the football pyramid in England - have already placed 60 members of their non-playing staff on an immediate notice of redundancy, and it’s likely that many more clubs will soon follow suit unless financial assistance is obtained in the immediate future. 

Steve Thompson, managing director of National League side Dagenham & Redbridge, believes that the National League may need a significant payout - thought to be in the region of £20m - from the government in order to stay in business. 

“There needs to be a concentrated effort,” said Thompson.

“I don't think we can expect a bailout from the Premier League or FA, so it needs to be government-led.”

"We have gone from having reasonable income to no income and that is a massive, massive job.”

The main allure to non-league football is how tightly bonded clubs are with their communities. The amount of money involved in the game at Premier League and Championship level can often leave fans feeling isolated, with many preferring to follow their local sides on a weekly basis as there is a more humanistic aspect to the whole experience.

Clubs in the National League are already massively struggling to keep up with no football to rely on, and should no help be offered by the league or the government in the coming weeks, the only result will be administration - leaving communities and livelihoods completely shattered in the process.

“I think the government realises that when we do eventually get through this, non-league clubs and League One and League Two clubs are going to be part of the fightback for our communities," added Thompson

"I think that is recognised, exactly how that support can be given I don't know.”

Realistically, this situation is going to get worse before it can get better. And, at this moment in time, non-league clubs simply do not have the infrastructures in place to deal with postponements of fixtures until April 30th and potentially beyond. 

With no cash-flow for a minimum of four weeks, where is the money to pay staff, tax, ground rent and bills going to come from? It is a question which needs to be hastily answered by the government or else clubs will simply start to evaporate and continue to do so at an alarming rate. 

With all that continues to ravage our communities at the moment, that is the very last thing anybody wants to see happen.

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