Save Our Clubs – Help With Writing to Your MP

The new normal

I might be ramming a point home here, but football is in peril.

Discussing the finer points of the cup draw, or producing generic opinion-based articles on non-news is all well and good under normal circumstances, but these circumstances are not normal. The last 24 hours have been painful to listen to and observe, from the Government discussions to the DCMS meeting. Everyone has a reason not to help, everyone thinks someone else could do it. As fans, we need our voice to be added to those arguing at the top, while community clubs collapse.

I went to the Post Office this morning and the new postmistress is a Scunthorpe fan. She believes they’ll be bust by December. Reports have suggested we might have until early next year before we hit troubles and before then, many more will have gone to the wall. Remember, there is a £1.57bn package in place to support leading cultural venues and institutions, none of which will go to football. also remember that 70% of that will be spent outside London, so 30% will be spent in the capital, the city in which an approximate 13% of the UK population lives. By my maths, that means they get more than double their ‘share’ based on people, and the wider country gets far less. It makes me sick.

I know many of you have already written to your MP, but others don’t know exactly how to start. I do know that a template is coming from the 617 lads, but if you want to act now, or just want to use your own words but are unsure of structure, here are some examples of letters already written to MPs across the country.

These are examples of some fan’s views and discussions and are bespoke. There should be a template published soon, but do feel free to accentuate and develop the points you make when messaging your MP. As before, a list of MP’s in the area and their contact details is at the bottom of the piece.

I write to you as a constituent and as a serving father and as a season ticket holder at Lincoln City Football Club.

The friendships that my son has made there have been priceless and meeting up with them were just as an important part of our matchday routine as was picking up a bag of chips on the way down to the ground, greeting the players for yet another photo as they arrived, the drama of the match itself and listening to the post-match analysis on the drive home.

Outside of matchday, the Lincoln City Foundation provided him with the opportunity to develop as a goalkeeper and has stood him in good stead as he joined another junior Football Club when we moved.

These are all memories and feelings that I treasure just as much as I miss them sorely when I have been deployed on operations for months at a time.

It has been nearly a year since I was last able to watch Lincoln City play at Sincil Bank in person. Thankfully my wife was able to take the reins when it came to matchday and I was able to purchase a subscription to watch games while I was deployed. On occasion I was able to clearly see my family watching the game. This meant the world to me at the time and I was looking forward to and planning the regular Saturday trip up and down the A1.

The point I am trying to make is that thousands of people have experiences such as mine albeit with variations based on personal circumstances. I am not advocating or fighting for the mass congregation of fans as common sense clearly dictates that this is not possible in the current climate. I have responded to a number of emails and surveys as a season ticket holder so I know for a fact that Lincoln City, as well as other clubs throughout the leagues have worked tirelessly to be in a position to let fans watch the game in safety and bring in much needed and in some cases desperately needed matchday revenue.

The recent successes of the club has been well documented and had initially probably put it a better position to come out of this situation than a lot of other clubs. That said though, as long as the current situation is maintained with fans kept out of grounds, the chances of this position being maintained will diminish. As far as I am aware, the cost of this situation to Lincoln City Football Club is running at around £1.8 million.

The real fear is that, without clear direction from the government, there is no roadmap for recovery from the sport’s authorities and as such there is the potential that a lot of football clubs will disappear the longer that this goes on.

While recent discussions with the Premier League initially offered some hope, in my opinion the attached conditions would’ve still seen the loss of the game at the local level.

Seeing other areas and events, where gatherings were allowed prior to the second wave, is particularly galling especially instances where cinemas have been charging to watch live football games in an enclosed environment and where enclosed theatres have been full.

To conclude, the risk of losing our clubs and therefore denying others experiences such as those I have described above surely cannot be allowed to happen and through yourself as both my local MP as well as your cabinet role, I appeal to the government to no longer hold football in contempt and look to provide direction and if applicable appropriate funding for its survival and subsequent recovery.

Good morning Gentlemen,

Could I ask why neither of you, both with professional football clubs in your constituencies, did not attend the debate yesterday in The House, or if you did attend did not lend your voices in support of those clubs, the clubs fans and the communities that profit from their very existence?

I was particularly dismayed that you, Mr McCartney as Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Football Group, appear to have taken no part. Perhaps you could explain what the APPFG actually does and what it’s remit is? None of the MPs in this county of ours appeared to think this issue is of any great importance which is a crying shame.

I have approached the two of you as you Matt are my MP and you Karl are the MP, Chairman of the group of have highlighted and also MP for Lincoln where the team I have supported for nearly 60 years is located. I hope to see a response from both of you on this issue. If you have been supportive of football in parliament, perhaps you could let me know what you have done on its behalf.

As a Harborough constituency resident I wanted to contact you to ask you to support the plight of lower league football through to grassroots football in the light of a) the domination and bullying by the Premier League and Premier League clubs and b) the crippling effects of the Coronavirus. I appreciate that within this constituency, Harborough Town Lutterworth Town and Oadby Town are the clubs in this bracket – but my interest and plea is driven by my (and my families) love of Lincoln City FC. But to be clear, my concern isn’t about a single club it is about the general state of the game and the danger that Coronavirus is going to cripple the whole sector unless addressed.

I am sympathetic to the argument that MP’s and Government potentially has bigger fish to fry at the moment. I do accept that the health of the nation, the NHS, the national debt being driven by the virus, Brexit, etc are the most important things on your agenda at the moment. But in the same way that the Govt has found time to give very generous rescue packages to the Arts and to specific organisations such as Virgin Airways etc, so I believe it is vital that the Govt intervenes to aid lower league and grass roots football before it is too late

I am not sure if you are a sports fan or not – I don’t recall seeing you speak or comment on such issues before, but whether you are or not I hope you can understand and appreciate the importance sport plays both at a national level (e.g. with success of the national team in a world cup or similar) but also at a local level. Locally I believe that the importance hits from different angles

  1. The Physical health angle: Encouraging people to play more sport. (I used to be a qualified coach at Harborough Town Juniors and saw the 100’s of children who’s only access to physical exercise beyond their two PE half hours a week was the release given to them by their local grass roots club).
  2. The Mental Health angle: Giving people an outlet, something which is fun outside of their normal lives which can give them excitement, friendship and focus – especially when so many other aspects of their lives are currently on hold – or worse.
  3. The Economic angle: Maybe not so much at the Harborough Town level, but certainly at League 1 & 2 level, the impact of the matchday and the club on local economies.
  4. The ‘part of the local community’ angle: Providing facilities, organisation, support initiatives for causes of all sorts

Please excuse me talking about Lincoln City. This is the club I know and therefore is my reference point. Hopefully you will understand that the same could apply to Northampton Town, Burton Albion or any other lower league club and that collectively it is the lower leagues and grass roots football in general that is need of support rather than any one specific club. And in a same way grass roots clubs such as Harborough, Oadby or Lutterworth Towns have their version of the same issues.

To be blunt, the problems in lower league football can currently be summarised as follows:

  1. Lower League teams are heavily reliant on match day income to survive. In the Premier League this is not true due to the ridiculously high TV money paid to clubs from across the world. Many of the biggest clubs could survive perfectly well if they never saw another fan in their stadia. But in lower leagues this is not the case. In Lincoln City’s case approximately 75% of club income comes through match day receipts. This is despite having excellent sponsorship deals in place with large companies such as LNER and Cadburys. Lincoln has an average home attendance of over 9,000 despite the city only having a population of around 100,000. Take off away fans and travellers from afar such as me but this means around 7% of the population of the city attend each game!! There is no other sport or other entertainment source which can compete with anything like this level of local interest. And the fact that people turn out in these numbers 25-30 times a year is just amazing! In normal times, 100,000’s if not millions of people attend their local matches every weekend in the lower leagues across the country on a magnitude that no other sport could start to imagine. There has been no match day income for any lower league club since March and yet clubs still have all the costs of running. Many staff are being made redundant and wages are being significantly cut. At Lincoln City the wage bill this season is 40% less than it was last year and we are only staying alive through Season Ticket holders such as myself still buying tickets even though they have no games to go to. (I personally have paid £365 for the season, plus the £85 refund I didn’t claim last season when the season was cut short early). There are 2 ways in which the Govt can and must help with this problem: 1. Provide a financial support package to lower league clubs asap to ensure survival and 2. Get fans back into stadia as soon as possible when lockdown is lifted so clubs can begin to start to become self-sufficient again. Trials completed in September and early October proved that fans could get back into stadia without causing Covid spikes so there really is no reason beyond the lockdown to keep fans away.
  2. The Premier League has become a business and can no longer be classed as sport. It is out of control in terms of wages and transfer prices and admission prices. It is most frequently run by business people who have little or no interest in anything beyond making more money. (To be fair the owners of Leicester City are honourable exceptions to this picture as they do some great work within Leicester and are revered by Leicester fans). This wouldn’t matter to lower league clubs if they were separate from lower league teams but they are not. They are all connected through the FA which is as useful as chocolate teapot in regulating the game and looking after the interests of the game as a whole. This ‘business first’ philosophy is exasperated further by the involvement of major TV broadcasters and other sponsors who work to the same philosophies, concerned only about their ‘product’ rather than the sport that they have over run and over taken. I generally believe in small Govt and am an anti-interventionalist – but my love of lower league football coupled with my belief of the importance of lower league clubs to their local communities means that I believe that the time has now come for the Govt to intervene and to enforce regulation in the area. I don’t know how this happens as I understand that international regulators such as FIFA and UEFA do not allow political intervention – but there has to be some way of helping the FA to retake control in some way

I am aware that there is a debate in Parliament this afternoon following a major fan petition. But the information I have been sent about this (I have completed a consultation questionnaire as requested by the petition authority) would suggest that Govt is not inclined to help. If this is the case then it is predicted that within weeks the first of many clubs will start to go bust. This would be disastrous for local clubs and local communities.

My final point – the importance of football just cannot be exaggerated in terms of families and in terms of mental health. I first went to watch Lincoln City when I was around 4 or 5 years old with my dad and my Granddad. Sat on their shoulders on the terrace – on my Dads in the first half and my Granddads in the second half. My Granddad was a gentle giant, 6ft4 tall and BIG. He had served in the logistics core in the war as an ambulance driver and some of the sights he had seen clearly impacted him for life. He never spoke about what he saw – in fact he rarely spoke about anything and for the 30 years I knew him before he died he largely sat in his chair in the corner and read the paper or watched TV. Hardly a word to anyone. In my mind it was clear he suffered from what would now be called PTSD or similar. He never did recover from the war even though he had no physical injuries. But the one time I saw my real Granddad was on a Saturday afternoon at the match. Singing at the top of his voice, laughing, loving, but by the time Sunday family lunch came round he was back in his shell again. This is the power of lower league football. And with so much more awareness now around mental illness I really believe that it is a Govt responsibility to ensure that we do not let it disappear for many.

To complete the family story my children and grand children are avid Lincoln fans as well. 5 generations with a common love, common discussion point a cause around which we all unite. But this isn’t just me – its is 100,000’s if not millions of people around the country – all desperate to keep their clubs alive and solvent.

Thank you for reading. And thank you in advance for anything you can do to add your voice to the case.

Act now, get behind the campaigns and don’t let football go down without a fight. If you choose to watch a Premier League game on TV this afternoon instead of writing to your MP about Lincoln, I’m afraid you are a part of the problem.

Don’t be a part of the problem, be part of the solution.

Boston and Skegness – Matt Warman

Gainsborough – Sir Edward Leigh

Grantham and Stamford – Gareth Davies

Lincoln – Karl McCartney

Louth and Horncastle – Victoria Atkins

Sleaford and Hykeham – Dr Caroline Johnson

South Holland and The Deepings – Sir John Hayes