Football is in crisis with the risk of losing clubs we have known for more than 100 years, the Government was warned on Monday.
A group of prominent figures issued their starkest warning yet on the future of the game.
As the Mirror campaigns to Save Our Sport, ex FA chairmen Greg Dyke and Lord Triesman and our own columnist Robbie Savage all called for action.
They warned many EFL and National League clubs are now preparing to “cease playing… and put their business into administration”.
Greg, 73, said: “Most of these clubs just about survive every year anyway. A third to a half of them could be in real trouble.
“Small clubs are essential to the towns and cities they are based in, especially in a small town. It would be a disaster if they went bust.”
The Government claims the Premier League will step in to help smaller clubs this week.
But Port Vale owner Carol Shanahan, 62, warned that may not be enough.
“It is like two different sports – the Premier League, and the rest of us,” she said.
“It can’t be underestimated the number of lower league clubs in trouble. We need money to survive. We had plans ready for all our fans to come in, but that has now been put off to March, which is frustrating.
“During lockdown we delivered 155,000 meals to 64,000 different people across Stoke, we are the centre point of our community. Any club could go under. It is down to individuals to put money in. Not every club has that. I noticed Man City just spent £65m on one player.
“That would have gone a long way to saving lower league clubs. We are all part of the same family. It is in the gift of Premier League clubs to do it. We are all in this together. The Government helped the arts and culture, we are part of that, and it should be extended.
“I feel like we are in a battle between the Government and the Premier League – one of both of them has to do something, because we cannot survive forever.”
The letter to the Government warns English Football League and National League are set to go into administration.
It tells how clubs are looking to lay off staff and close down youth academies and community foundations.
“This could lead to the failure of many historic community clubs.. the collapse of the national league structure that we have known for over 100 years,” the group writes.
“These are decisions that will be made in the coming weeks, with many clubs unable to meet their payroll obligations for next month. We would ask that the government now make clear what financial support it’s prepared to give before it is too late.
“In order for clubs to sustain themselves over the winter and keep playing, they would need to be compensated for the loss of match ticket sales.
“There is still time to act, but not long left.”
Sports have been told to prepare for several more months without gate receipts. Plans for fans to return to grounds from Oct 1 were scrapped last week due to the rise in the virus.
The letter states emergency funding is now needed to cover losses of matchday revenue.
“The absence of this income is not a result of their actions, but the policies that have been put in place by the government,” it adds.
“It cannot be the Premier League’s sole responsibility to sort out issues arising from government policy.
“The government needs to take responsibility or many already embattled towns – often in areas of the country which have suffered many hardships – will lose their last focal point.”
Sent to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden and Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston, the letter is endorsed by Football Supporters’ Association chair Malcolm Clarke, Damian Collins, ex-chairman of the Dept for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, and various MPs.
The group refers to the £1.5bn bailout that the government gave to arts and cultural organisations in July.
“We believe that football, like other well-loved professional sports in this country, is also a cultural activity,” the signatories add.
EFL chairman Rick Parry has warned some clubs “are on the brink”.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden is “hopeful” the Premier League will move to help lower-league clubs this week.
But the government has now been told it cannot rely on the top flight, and must also provide funding.
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