It’s a cry we hear too much of these days; save our clubs.
Whilst grants are handed out to arts in London to help them through the Covid-19 pandemic, football clubs are being left alone to rot and die, whilst a power struggle keeps us from getting the help required to survive.
Project Big Picture, the Government, Rick Parry, the Premier League, even the EFL: they plot and argue, fight and bicker and meanwhile real people are being affected. Jobs are being lost, clubs are living on borrowed time and nobody seems like they’re willing to make the first move. That has prompted a number of clubs to come together and support the ‘Save Our Clubs‘ project, which you can find here on Twitter. The backers include Crewe Alexandra, Sunderland, Barrow, Blackpool, Middlesbrough, Rochdale and Fleetwood Town, as well as our own club, Lincoln City. One thing that struck me almost immediately was these are northern (ish) clubs, and whilst football isn’t a northern pursuit, I can’t help but feel the north/south divide is becoming increasingly evident in the government’s handling not only of the football crisis, but the wider crisis in general. When tier 3 restrictions didn’t affect London, Andy Burnham had to fight for every scrap of help he could get. As soon as numbers in London move towards a tier 3 solution, the whole country gets locked down and in comes the furlough scheme.
At least real people are getting help, but clubs are not, and that is the crux of the Save our Clubs mission. The mission statement on their Twitter feed reads: “England’s community football clubs face extinction without immediate action. Current government policy lavishes billions on London theatres and art galleries whilst letting small-town provincial football clubs disintegrate. This is devastating ‘left- behind’ communities where the local football club is the last remaining focal point. As a minimum, a PAYE holiday is needed until fans are allowed back into stadiums to see clubs through the winter.”
Several of those backing the initiative have spoken out, with Fleetwood’s Steve Curwood saying that only the government can stops clubs going bust. Steve Gibson, chairman of Middlesbrough, laid out the situation in somewhat clearer terms, and mentioned why clubs have not yet gone bust: “Looking at the EFL in particular, Clubs will lose £250million by the end of the current season, a problem the League is powerless to solve,” he said. “The real power lies in Government, as well as with the Premier League and PFA. Specifically, the Government’s power lies within the ability to allow fans to return to stadiums, as well as providing financial support. Exploring where we are at the moment, we haven’t lost a club yet, because the Premier League have advanced solidarity payments and we were granted a three-month deferral on PAYE and NIC. These income streams have got us through but have ultimately added to the debt. Now, it’s all about what happens next.”
Jim Rodwell, former Imps trainee and now CEO of Sunderland pointed to a recent example of a club going bust. “Look at what happened with Bury – the same will happen again. We are standing on the edge in football and we need help. We need significant people in the stadium, a cash bail out, we need someone to start listening. Football is just a game, we get that. But it raises billions for the economy and the impact is huge on communities across the country.”
Our own chairman, Clive Nates, has been a vocal and visible opponent of Project Big Picture for a while now, and despite it being rejected by Premier League clubs, it is likely to emerge once again. The problem we have is the desire of those powerful clubs to use this opportunity as a power grab. Just to clarify and reiterate points I made on my video a few weeks ago, the £250m boost to the EFL is no more than a loan which would be paid back out of future money, the projected income generated by their breakaway deal would mean any future percentage would be much, much lower. What I didn’t know, but do now, is if a club loaned you four players and your manager left, that club could immediately recall those players without a moment’s thought, decimating struggling teams. The media rammed some attractive looking bullet points in our face and made it look doable, but hid the real threat. ‘Here’, they said to a hungry child. ‘Have some free sweets’. What they didn’t tell them, was each of those sweets was laced with cyanide and once they’d eaten them, they’d owe them their souls, and a bulk of any sweets they might get our hands-on in the future. Still, free sweets, right?
I haven’t seen the full document, but chatting to those who have, it is clear it is a manifesto for the destruction of life as we know it, shameless and self-serving from the big clubs that many Lincoln fans claim as a second team. Like Man Utd and Lincoln? Always been a Liverpool fan but sometimes pop to Sincil Bank? One is killing the other, wake up and smell the coffee. Sadly, by tuning into the Premier League every Sunday, by paying the Sky fees, you are inadvertently part of the problem. At some point in the future, fans who support a big six team and a ‘smaller’ club are either going to be hypocrites or have a big choice to make.
The sad thing is, Project Big Picture (they even announced their intentions in the title, the shameless wankers) will be back. The Government could save football, the Premier League could save football, but they’re both waiting and watching. The truth is it is like a block of flats being on fire, and two fire engines both sat outside as the flames rage, engines running and full of water, demanding to own the building after they have put out the fire. They’re still waiting now, water tanks at the ready until the destructive fire is burning people. Why? because that is when those desperate people will scream ‘save me’ under any circumstances, just as football clubs will have to soon. Once enough people are screaming, they’ll put the fire out and own everything thereafter. They don’t even care if a few die in the process because they’ll end up with what they want. They might even think it would be advantageous if a few did, just to bring home the seriousness of the situation to those still desperately fighting for their lives.
If you are in any doubt as to how serious this is, have a read of this thread here. Eight clubs would already have gone without assistance from the EFL, assistance that cannot extend to everyone. Many could be gone by Christmas and yes, we have been told that our club is stable enough to have 20 or 30 go before we do. That doesn’t mean we’re safe, does it? If you are stood in a line where people are being shot in the head and you’re 30th, you don’t think ‘oh well, 29 to go before me, I’m alright’, do you? Lincoln City are not thinking we’re alright because we’re in a better position than others. Why? because when the 29 have gone, who will help us fight the shooters? Nobody. If 30 starving people have got two pennies in their pocket and food costs a pound, it really doesn’t matter if you have more three more pennies than everyone else, does it?
The time to act is now, but what can we do? It’s a good question because I get a real sense of helplessness from everyone I talk to. Clubs are exasperated, as are the staff at those clubs. Fans feel castigated and ignored, with every right, but cannot seem to get anyone to listen. It is all well and good saying that the Government have a lot on their plate, maybe they do, but there is also a lot of them and enough to ask the question of. Oliver Dowden, the so-called Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has claimed no EFL club will be allowed to go bust but has still called on someone else to do the bailout, seemingly the Premier League. All this, whilst happily giving £75m for ‘iconic arts venues’ across the country. They even proudly claimed 70% of this was going outside London, so the whole country gets 70% and one city gets another 30%? That’s showing contempt in my eyes, and yet they wear it like a badge of honour. It’s utter madness, southern-centric and completely at odds with the needs of the nation. I dare wager that the economic benefit at a local level of the 72 clubs that make up the EFL far outweighs that of the art venues receiving the grants. It’s not even like Dowden was the Eton toff playing polo and rugger with Boris J and Davie C completely out of touch with the plebs, he was educated at a state school and will surely have seen what actually affects real, working-class people at a base level. It doesn’t seem to have resonated.
I’m ranting because I’m upset. I’m upset that our club is considered in a good position because it won’t be the first to die. I’m sad because fans weren’t allowed back into football, but people could go to the circus and drink in London’s Soho (last night, btw, the street was packed yet up north, a woman was arrested for taking her 97-year-old mother out of a care home as it broke regulations) without any worries. I’m sad because I haven’t seen a single action by the people who could save football, not the Premier League, not the Government and certainly not Rick ‘Mr Self Interest’ Parry, all of whom seem more focused on giving the top table what they want and simply telling the rest of us to fuck off.
Shame on the big six. Shame on you if you back them, their power grab and everything they stand for. Shame on the Government (nothing new there) and shame on Rick Parry. If we’re not careful, it won’t be B Teams which threaten our football pyramid’s future, but the lack of clear action or decisive governance from those we entrust to run the football and the country.