‘Many clubs won’t be able to withstand’ lack of fans at games, EFL chairmen warn

EFL chairmen have warned of the real possibility of clubs going bust after the reopening of sports grounds was pushed back.

A second wave of coronavirus infections has led to a tightening of restrictions from the British Government, including the halting of plans for spectators to return to sports venues in England from October 1 on a socially-distanced basis.

Dale Vince, the chairman of League Two club Forest Green, believes this could be a tipping point.

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“There are always a handful of clubs that are on the edge anyway, every year,” he told the PA news agency.

“It is a major additional impact that many clubs will not be able to withstand.”

It is understood discussions over additional financial support from the Premier League to the EFL are continuing, and Vince’s counterpart at Burton, Ben Robinson, added: “I can only imagine the Premier League were waiting to see how clubs were fixed financially. Well, now they know.

“Now they know that there’s no fans coming in probably for six months and it’s not just the loss of fan income through the turnstiles, it’s all the other commercial income that follows it: matchday hospitality, advertising, sponsorship, weddings, events and what have you.

“So, maybe now they might see that the situation is real, that a number of clubs are going to go bust very, very soon because they’re not going to have the cash to pay the wages and other overheads.

Socially distanced fans at Blackpool
Socially distanced fans at Blackpool

“Hopefully that might mean that there’s a clearer picture for them to see the need to help clubs get through this.”

Morecambe co-chairman Rod Taylor painted a similarly bleak picture.

“We’re OK now and we’re probably OK for a couple of months,” he said.

“There’s got to be some sort of help from higher authorities, be it football or Government, otherwise clubs will, without a shadow of a doubt, go under.”

Vince agreed that any rescue package should be worked out between the Government and the Premier League.

“I think arguably the Government have a responsibility,” he said.

“They put £1.5billion into the arts sector to keep that afloat, they put £500m into the hospitality sector just in August with the Eat Out To Help Out scheme, and sport is a big part of our society and our culture.

“The Premier League does have some responsibility to the lower leagues of football, because they can help out. I would hope that between them – and I know they would each prefer the other to do something – it gets done.”

Vince’s club hosted a pilot event on Saturday where 1,000 fans attended their match against Bradford.

He said it was “contradictory” of the Government to block such highly-regulated events yet allow pubs and retailers to remain open.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak helped to support the Eat Out To Help Out scheme
Chancellor Rishi Sunak helped to support the Eat Out To Help Out scheme

On the Bradford match, he said: “It was the most regulated, safest environment I’ve been in since lockdown began in March.

“It was incredible and far safer than being in a shop, on a high street, in a pub, or even going to school. So if you look behind the headline impression, it is contradictory that you can still have pubs, you can still have schools, and retail, but we can’t have very tightly, very well-controlled sports games with fans.”

Recently-appointed Swansea chief executive Julian Winter gave a slightly different outlook for the future of EFL clubs from the Championship perspective.

He said: “I am more positive about clubs not going to the wall because people are genuinely pulling together and finding creative ways to help fund football clubs.”