‘We have not asked Netflix to bail out the arts’ – MP’s debate football’s future

Yesterday, MP’s debated the future of football and the petition for allowing fans back into grounds. 

We haven’t heard much of it in the news, have we? I only heard about it thanks to Dave Wilkinson, who watched the debate on TV. The full transcript of the debate can be found on the Hansard here.

The discussion didn’t really go well for football fans. Having scanned the speakers there is no Karl McCartney debating, despite us being told he can help clubs. There is no Victoria Atkins, my local MP who I wrote to about this situation many moons ago. There are a handful of MPs who have taken the time to be present and maybe Covid restrictions meant some bigger hitters couldn’t be there, but if that is the case, what was the point? What was the point of 200,000 people signing a petition if the Prime Minister isn’t involved, or the so-called Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport? That’s right, parliament discussed a petition that 200,000 people signed regarding a subject covered in Oliver Dawden’s remit and he wasn’t even there.

I issue my thanks to the MP’s who stood up for football, wholeheartedly, but shame on Dowden.

Instead, Nigel Huddlestone was in attendance, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Sport, Tourism and Heritage. he was born in Lincoln and went to Robert Patt, so we got joy from him, right? Judge for yourself.

“The Government have provided an unprecedented support package to businesses throughout the period, including a comprehensive and sizeable package of direct fiscal support through tax reliefs, cash grants and employee wage support. Many football clubs have benefited from those measures and others, such as business rates relief and the furlough scheme. Sport England has provided £210 million of national lottery and Government funding to support the sport and the physical activity sector overall through covid-19. That includes the £35 million community emergency fund, which is helping community sports clubs and exercise centres during the pandemic.

The Football Foundation, a charity set up by the Government, the FA and the Premier League, has also introduced a number of funds to help clubs during these difficult times. The latest is the match day support fund, which helps clubs to prepare for the resumption of football. That follows the foundation’s pitch and club preparation funds, which also distributed grants to many local clubs.

The Government have worked tirelessly to get sports back up and running in the last few months. We were able to get elite sports, including the Premier League, back behind closed doors in June to allow seasons to be finished and vital revenue to flow into the game again. We ensured that Project Restart was shared with everyone by getting live Premier League football on the BBC for the first time. Elite sport will also be allowed to continue during the period of national restrictions that came in from last week.

I am fully aware of the importance of getting spectators back into stadiums for many sports, not just football, but rising infection rates across the country meant that, unfortunately, it was not the right time to proceed with a wider reopening on 1 October, as was widely recognised. A key issue is that this is not just about fans sitting in stands within the stadiums—admittedly outdoors, as many hon. Members have said—where infection rates are generally lower than indoors. We must consider the whole fan journey from home to venue, how fans travel to and from stadiums, the risk of gathering inside and outside such venues, and the high number of contact points that that risks.”

No mention of your local team then Nige? Cheers pal.

Some MP’s did have positive things to say and good contributions to make. MP’s representing Crewe, Blackburn, Accrington and Wakefield amongst others spoke eloquently and passionately about their local community, they care or at the very least, they’re doing their job. Guess how many of those MP’s are on the list I put out earlier in the week? Nada.

Still, here are some who get it.

“In defeating coronavirus, we should not and need not destroy everything that we cherish and enjoy. Where it is possible, everyday life should be able to continue in a sensible manner that does not cause a risk of infection. I believe this is the case with football stadiums, and having a responsible and well-distanced audience would provide great benefits, not just to people’s mental health and social lives but to communities that come together in a shared love of sport.”Imran Ahmad Khan, Wakefield

“Having been one of the 1,000 fans in the crowd at Norwich City’s game against Preston North End—one of the pilot matches—I am confident that that can be done safely. Fans were asked to arrive in good time; there were temperature and ID checks; food and drink areas were closed in the grounds, so hawkers brought stuff to people in their seats; fans were socially distanced and in the fresh air; and exits were staggered at the end. There has been no evidence of transmission from pilot matches. Indeed, the Minister told me in a written answer that the Department was confident that any issues could be mitigated. We need to let fans back in because the current restrictions are having a major impact on clubs’ finances and threatening their futures.”James Wild, North Norfolk

“About 1,000 fans were at Bloomfield Road, which has a maximum capacity of more than 17,000. In my opinion, the attendance could easily have been increased to between 25% and 35% of the total capacity with no impact on the safety of those attending. That is important, because although the clubs that took part in the trial games, including Blackpool, were delighted to do so, the cost of opening stadiums for such a small number of fans was excessive and would not be commercially viable on a regular basis. If we are going to see fans back in stadiums, of course that has to be done safely, but it also has to be done at a level at which it is viable to operate in the short term.”Scott Benton, Blackpool

”     ” – Karl McCartney, Lincoln

“I want to say Ashley Greenwood, thank you, because it’s because of you and the near 200,000 people who have signed the petition that we stand here today. We are united, which is quite rare in this place, in the want for fans back in football stadia. I just want to make it very clear for the record that as of the second of December, I will be expecting to see an announcement that fans are coming back into football stadiums.”Jonathon Gullis, Stoke

“I cannot believe that my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport wants to be the Minister for Sport who presides over the death of community football clubs; I cannot believe that that will happen and I cannot believe that the Government will do nothing. However, as a consequence of there being neither a deal nor a support package in place, what is happening now is that any staff who can be let go are being let go. The things that do not bring in any revenue will be the first to go: youth academies, women’s football and the community outreach programmes to which my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North alluded. These things will be cut back until the club bleeds to death and has no cash left. At that point, it can go cap in hand to the Government or to the football authorities.

We need a deal now. We have not asked Netflix to bail out the arts, so I do not think we should say that it should be entirely down to top-flight football—the commercial big boys—to bail out the whole game. The Government wanted football back, the Government supported football coming back and the Government need to help, if only with a tax holiday, to enable these clubs to get through the next few months.”Damian Collins, Folkestone

There are plenty more to be found on the Hansard for you to peruse if you so desire. There are good people asking the right questions, but none of them come from Lincolnshire, apparently. All we can do is keep using our voice. Do NOT become complacent, do NOT think ‘we’re alright Jack’. We’re not. Football isn’t just Lincoln City, it is all of us. I read a Tweet last night that suggested up to 20 clubs could currently be under embargo because they have had to grab a emergency payment to see them over, whilst the powers that control football and the country argue like cat and dog. Real people are being affected, real lives. Watch the video below – how would you feel if we NEVER got that back? Go on, listen to it and close your eyes for a second – what if that was never going to happen again?

The threat is real.

Fans have the power, which is why campaigns such as this, and that of the collective of clubs backing Save Our Clubs get the full support of all fans. Sitting back and saying nothing is criminal as a lower league football fan. even if you simply give the social media accounts a follow and voice your concern, that is a start. However, if you want to make a difference, use your voice, today. The 617 believe writing to your MP is going to make a difference and from a meeting, I had in midweek, a leading fan engagement expert feels the same way. Why not message your local MP this morning, telling them why they need to act now? If you wish to, I have included a handy guide to local MP’s and their contact details below, just to get you started. If you do message them, be sure to include your postcode and full name, as they have to verify that the message comes from a constituent rather than a random. I have included the list below, but if you are unsure which area you fall into, this website will confirm who you should write to.

If you are old school and want to write a letter instead of an email, simply put your MP’s name at the top and use this address – House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA

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 matt.warman.mp@parliament.uk

Gainsborough – Sir Edward Leigh edward.leigh.mp@parliament.uk

Grantham and Stamford – Gareth Davies gareth.davies.mp@parliament.uk

Lincoln – Karl McCartney karl.mccartney.mp@parliament.uk

Louth and Horncastle – Victoria Atkins Victoria@victoriaatkins.org.uk

Sleaford and Hykeham – Dr Caroline Johnson caroline.johnson.mp@parliament.uk

South Holland and The Deepings – Sir John Hayes hayesj@parliament.uk