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‘Biggest threat to non league football since WW2’ – Very worried clubs speak to the BBC

‘The biggest threat to non league football since WW2’ – A number of very worried clubs speak to the BBC over the financial situation.

The cost of living crisis is currently the biggest threat to the non league scene with one of a dozens fearing that a drop in attendances and higher energy prices could see them having to fold specially as temperatures dip the next few months.

The cost of matchday transport, floodlights and mowing the pitches are identified as common problems with the FA saying it was trying to understand how to best help grassroots clubs.

29 of the 31 non league clubs who had a chat with the BBC agreed that they were “very worried” about the current financial situation.

John Bailey, chairman of eighth-tier Didcot Town, said: “I’ve been doing this for 30 years – it’s never been as bad.

“At least with Covid we got some grants. We can only last until January or February at this rate.”

The club has been among a number who have called for earlier kick-offs to reduce its spending on powering floodlights, something a few leagues are allowing.

Cost changes for hiring matchday transport. .  .

Meanwhile, Havant and Waterlooville chairman Trevor Brock said his team have been doing well on the pitch this season, sitting 2nd in the National League South with 29 points from 11 games, unbeaten in the division and two games behind league leaders Ebbsfleet.

This should mean a regular bumper crowd at home games, however they were one of 16 clubs to tell the BBC that gates decreased. Attendances are currently about 900 but had previously been 1,500.

He said their stadium, Westleigh Park, was in “the middle of the second biggest council estate in Europe”, so locals couldn’t afford to go to the football.

Year-on-year utility bill rises. .  .

15 of the clubs that BBC Sport had spoken with said they were “the lucky ones” due to them being locked into pre-existing fixed-term tariffs for their utility bills.

The rest though report the rises were their biggest concern, with floodlights and other amenities needed to keep grounds operating needing huge amounts of power.

Oxford City sees their annual utility bill go up from £72,000 to £120,000, while Didcot Town will go from £14,400 to £60,000 – that’s an increase of 316%.

Sholing, who play in Southampton, are seeing bills doubled to £9,000, Salisbury’s is to treble to £21,600 while Dorchester Town will pay £36,000 – a rise of £16,000.

BBC South sports editor Lewis Coombes said: “It seems the crisis affecting the south’s non-league clubs is a perfect storm of rising costs and falling crowds.

“The clubs that own their ground, are not locked into an energy tariff, use coaches a lot for away travel, and aren’t being propped up by generous backers face extinction.

“Clubs at the heart of their community, which in some cases have been around for a 100 years or more, told us they may cease to exist in 12 months.

“They are a million miles away from the glamour of the top of the football pyramid where a player’s monthly salary will cover many non-league clubs’ bills for years.

“Although many want to remain optimistic, they also told us that this could be it.

“After weathering world wars, global recessions and the pandemic, it could be the cost of keeping the lights on that sends them to the wall.

“After the players’ wage bill and utility costs, the most significant expense is hiring transport to take the team to away matches.”

Robert McAlees, who is the chairman of Littlehampton Town, said: “I cry when I call all the coach companies because it’s always twice as much as last season.”

National League North outfit Brackley Town are the club perhaps most affected by the cost of hiring coaches to matches as they are the team furthest south in the division.

They have to have to travel north of Newcastle. A coach to Blyth costed around £1,070 last season and is £1,600 this season.

Half of club bosses said they are experiencing a drop in attendances from last season which they attribute predominantly to the cost of living crisis.

Mike Lightfoot, chairman of Slough Town, said their sales of season tickets, which are worth £200 each, were down by 77, meaning a loss of £15,400 in revenue.

“I stare at the accounts every day thinking ‘how can I get us more cash?'” he said.

Bracknell Town, who play in the 7th tier having won promotion last season, are another club seeing rising costs meaning they are not currently a viable business.

Year-on-year price rises they are facing as per BBC Sport:

Electricity at the stadium has increased from £1,500 per month to £3,000

Hiring coaches up from £700 last season to £930

Fertilizer rises from £23 per 20kg bag to £33

Red diesel was £1.01 per litre but now they are no longer allowed to use it, with regular diesel costing about £1.80

Chairman Kayne Steinborn-Busse said: “You can’t pass on every cost that we face – we are having to absorb it.

“If myself and my family weren’t backing Bracknell Town they wouldn’t be surviving now… is it a viable business? No.”

Iain McInnes, the former chairman of Portsmouth who now runs Gosport Borough, said: “I’ve been around the block for a long time and this is biggest obstacle [non-league football] have ever faced.”

A FA spokesperson said: “As we’ve outlined in our grassroots strategy, Survive, Revive, Thrive, we have identified the club network and grassroots workforce as priority areas and will continue to work with every segment of the game to understand how we can best support and serve them as we move forward.

“We are also aware of and will continue to proactively monitor the effect of the current cost of living on grassroots football.”

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