04:52PM, Wednesday 20 January 2021
Slough Town boss Jon Underwood has said the Rebels would have absolutely no means of paying back a loan from the Government and can’t see how the club will be able to continue playing its matches this season unless supporters are allowed to return or money is found for National League clubs in the form of grants.
The league’s clubs were dealt a major blow this week when it emerged that any future funding for the season would likely be issued as loans and not as grants.
Clubs in the league’s three divisions only kicked off the season in October with the understanding they’d be supported financially while playing matches behind closed doors. A £10m grant was secured from the National Lottery for the first three months of the season and Slough received £90,000 to cover costs and help pay wages until the end of December.
Until this week they’d heard nothing about the remainder of the season. Now it’s emerged that the £11m allocated to the National League as part of the Government’s £300m rescue package for sport will be available as loans.
The interim National League chief executive Mark Ives, who replaced Mike Tattersall in December, was due to address the situation with clubs yesterday (Wednesday), however, Underwood said he couldn’t envisage a structure for paying back the loan which would work for the club. National League South clubs were due to have that meeting with the chief executive from 4pm, and Underwood said he expected a lot of news to come out from the meeting after 5pm.
“No, no, absolutely we could not (continue playing),” he said.
“I think we’re the same as a lot of clubs. We’d be taking a loan that we have no means of paying back. At the moment we have no income coming into the club. That money coming in we’d be paying it straight out again and none of us have any idea when the club can start earning money again. It could be August; it could be September?
“Then we’ll have to find £150,000, or whatever it is, to pay back. We don’t know the details of the loans.
“That’s what we will find out this afternoon (Wednesday).
“I can’t see any structure within the loans that’s going to work for clubs.
“We all made it very clear at the start of the season that if we couldn’t have fans in the only way we could continue is with grants.”
Underwood added that the £10m found for clubs in the National League from the National Lottery could now go to waste, if, as seems likely, clubs are unwilling to accept loans to complete the season.
He added: “They (grants) were forthcoming for the first three months and we were very grateful for it, but it appears that that was a waste because if the season ends, it will have all been for nothing. Underwood added that some clubs might have the cash to get through to the end of the season without the need for a loan, or minimal lending, however, the Rebels ‘are not in that boat’.
“No, we can’t continue with loans. There’s no way. I’m obviously speaking on behalf of the club and it’s not my decision, I have my opinion.
“But, my understanding, from speaking to those in charge of the club, is that they share the same view – a loan isn’t anything we can work with.
“What does this mean? I don’t know. We wait to hear what other clubs say. I think 12 clubs in the National League North put out a statement last week or the week before when they were trying to find out if it was loans or grants. They said the same thing as us if it’s loans – it’s not viable. There are always going to be clubs that are in a different financial situation to us that think they can make it through to the end of the season but we’re not in that boat.
“I think the majority [of clubs] will be in our camp. Every club will do what is right for them and the answer for us is that it wouldn’t work.”
Underwood added that taking out loans to complete the season could potentially put the long-term future of the club at risk.
“Both from a safety and funding point of view, he doesn’t think its right to continue the season and believes a short break could be the answer to come up with workable solutions.
“You’re putting the future of the club in doubt and in jeopardy and that’s not what any of us want to be doing,” he said.
“It’s a horrible situation because we all love our football and we’ve been grateful to be able to carry on to an extent.
“We’ve made our feelings quite clear that we don’t think it’s right, from a safety point of view and a funding point of view to continue. It’s not financially viable.
“It’s like we’ve been blindly pushing on. I don’t think it should continue that’s my personal view. The season should end but we’ll see.”
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