Cost of living crisis: 'Biggest threat to non-league football since WW2' – BBC

  • October 20, 2022

The cost of living crisis poses the biggest threat to non-league football since World War Two, one of dozens of clubs spoken to by the BBC has said.
Teams across the lower tiers of the football pyramid fear the combination of dwindling attendances and higher energy prices could seal their fate.
The cost of matchday transport, floodlights and mowing the pitches have been identified as common problems.
The FA said it was trying to understand how to best help grassroots clubs.
Twenty-nine of the 31 non-league clubs who spoke to the BBC agreed that they were "very worried" about the current financial situation.
John Bailey, chairman of eighth-tier Didcot Town, said non-league football was facing its biggest threat since World War Two.
"I've been doing this for 30 years – it's never been as bad," he said.
"At least with Covid we got some grants. We can only last until January or February at this rate."
The club has been among a number who have called for earlier kick-offs to reduce its spending on powering floodlights.
Havant and Waterlooville chairman Trevor Brock said the team were doing well this season, which should mean a bumper crowd.
But they were one of 16 clubs to tell the BBC that gates were down. Attendances are currently about 900 but were previously 1,500.
He said their stadium was in "the middle of the second biggest council estate in Europe", so locals could not afford to go to the football.
Fifteen of the clubs the BBC spoke to said they were "the lucky ones" due to them being locked into pre-existing fixed-term tariffs for their utility bills.
But the rest reported the rises were their biggest concern, with things like floodlights and other amenities needed to keep grounds operating requiring huge amounts of power.
Oxford City will see their annual utility bill rise from £72,000 to £120,000, while Didcot Town will go from £14,400 to £60,000 – an increase of 316%.
Southampton-based Sholing FC's bills are doubling to £9,000, Salisbury's are trebling to £21,600 while Dorchester Town will pay £36,000 – a rise of £16,000.
It seems the crisis affecting the south's non-league clubs is a perfect storm of rising costs and falling crowds.
The clubs that own their ground, are not locked into an energy tariff, use coaches a lot for away travel, and aren't being propped up by generous backers face extinction.
Clubs at the heart of their community, which in some cases have been around for a 100 years or more, told us they may cease to exist in 12 months.
They are a million miles away from the glamour of the top of the football pyramid where a player's monthly salary will cover many non-league clubs' bills for years.
Although many want to remain optimistic, they also told us that this could be it.
After weathering world wars, global recessions and the pandemic, it could be the cost of keeping the lights on that sends them to the wall.
After the players' wage bill and utility costs, the most significant expense is hiring transport to take the team to away matches.
Robert McAlees, chairman of Littlehampton Town, said: "I cry when I call all the coach companies because it's always twice as much as last season."
Brackley Town, based in Northamptonshire, are the club perhaps most affected by the cost of hiring coaches to games as they are the team furthest south in the National League North.
They have to regularly travel north of Newcastle. A coach to Blythe was £1,070 last season and is £1,600 this season.
Compounding this, half of club bosses reported a drop in attendances from last season which they attribute predominantly to the cost of living crisis.
Mike Lightfoot, chairman of Slough Town, said their sales of season tickets, which cost £200 each, were down by 77, meaning a loss of £15,400 in revenue.
"I stare at the accounts every day thinking 'how can I get us more cash?'" he said.
Bracknell Town, nicknamed The Robins, were formed in 1896 and have been owned by the same family for decades.
They were promoted last season as champions and currently play in the Southern Premier South league – the seventh tier of English football.
However, rising costs mean they are not currently a viable business.
Some of the year-on-year price rises they are facing:
Chairman Kayne Steinborn-Busse said: "You can't pass on every cost that we face – we are having to absorb it.
"If myself and my family weren't backing Bracknell Town they wouldn't be surviving now… is it a viable business? No."
Iain McInnes, the former chairman of Portsmouth who now runs Gosport Borough, said: "I've been around the block for a long time and this is biggest obstacle [non-league football] have ever faced."
A FA spokesperson said: "As we've outlined in our grassroots strategy, Survive, Revive, Thrive, we have identified the club network and grassroots workforce as priority areas and will continue to work with every segment of the game to understand how we can best support and serve them as we move forward.
"We are also aware of and will continue to proactively monitor the effect of the current cost of living on grassroots football."
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