12:46PM, Thursday 11 February 2021
Non-league football is in desperate need of another reset according to Slough Town boss Neil Baker, who says clubs shouldn’t be forced into financial hardship by continuing with a season when they have no income to finance it.
The Rebels are one of several clubs in National League South who are refusing to play games at present while a vote on whether to continue with the season is unknown.
Clubs in all three divisions of the National League have been voting on whether to continue with the season following the decision by Government to replace grant funding with loans. It’s thought the majority of National League sides want to continue, but the position is less clear in Slough’s league where at least seven clubs have grave doubts about playing on without grant support or the income that supporters bring in.
Although they are vehemently opposed to the season continuing without financial aid or improved safety measures for players, Baker said the club’s steering group would have several issues to consider, and a big decision to make, if clubs do vote to play on.
“It’s very easy to suggest that we play our u23s as Dulwich highlighted, but there’s problems with that as well,” he said. “As a club you still have big costs to run football matches. We’re a tenant of Arbour Park so we have rent, referee fees, security fees. We have all these fees that come into fruition when you’re playing football.
“So, even if you went with a zero (playing) budget, you’re still making losses as a club. It doesn’t sit right with me. It’s a strange situation and so many industries have been hit by it. We’ve tried to carry on for as long as we can but it’s now at a stage where a decision has to be made.
“I’ve gone past the point about worrying what other clubs say or do because that’s their prerogative. Dorking Wanderers, for example, are a club that are very firm and want to continue and rightly so. They’ve invested a lot of money into this season already and they would be really disappointed if it was to finish because they are ambitious and they want to move on. We’ve just got to wait on the National League but unfortunately that’s everlasting, ever waiting right now.”
The league has been putting plans in place to provide COVID testing for squads on a weekly basis at no cost to the clubs. This may tip the balance of the vote in favour of playing on, with 11 National League South clubs set to vote in favour of continuing. Legally clubs have 28 days to respond to the resolutions, but Baker hopes what he calls ‘a mess’ of a situation will be resolved much quicker than that.
“We’ve heard nothing yet,” said Baker. “We’re currently waiting like a number of clubs. Obviously, we’re not playing, and some clubs are, some clubs aren’t. It’s all a bit of a mess really. We still hope it will be null and voided and then we can park it and concentrate hopefully on next season when crowds could be allowed back in.
“I think the whole grants thing is pretty much done. There’s no real talk of getting a grant now and clubs have accepted they will either have to continue with loans or the season finishes.
“There are a number of clubs who have voted to null and void but it’s getting to that majority, but then also hoping the first resolution passes.
He added: “Football needs a reset, and we did have one last year to be honest. But we’re going through the biggest pandemic of our generation and we’ve got to adapt. I think trying to play out a season when you’ve got no income, no finance, is crazy. We’re at step 6 of the national game and we’re trying to run a business, which happens to be a football club, without income. It just isn’t feasible.
“It’s a strange situation, I feel for every club. Every manager, supporter, player, volunteer – I feel for everyone. It’s a position none of us want to be in or wanted to be in. Unfortunately, though, it’s kept unravelling and we’ve got to a stage now where I think the season is untenable.”
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