Inside story on why EFL clubs face shutdown in just a matter of weeks

Sunderland co-owner Charlie Methven has a 48,000 seater stadium standing empty and echoing on match days.

On Saturday a Northerly wind made the structure rumble, background noise to the sound of players and managers shouting at each other, before Grant Leadbitter’s silent penalty-kick winner.

No fans, at what should be a cauldron of emotion, and a hub of local pride as Sunderland bid to climb out of League One. Ditto all their rivals across the EFL and in the National League.

As Methven explained: “You have got the lost gate money, no corporate hospitality, lost retail sales on match day, and there is the week to week loss in conferencing.

“For us, add those things together it is £9m a season lost revenue. There are reductions in cost for not holding games, stewarding, policing, litter picking. So it is net, about £7m.

“Those numbers will be normal in the Championship where there are 30,000 stadium and hospitality spends, some even higher.”

Sunderland aren’t one of those about to go bust, running a tight financial ship, but rivals are on the brink of shutting up shop, mothballing.

Methven is angry that the government has seen the need to bail out the arts with £1.5bn, but not football clubs.

Being naturally a conservative himself, in a Labour outpost, Methven’s words should be a wake up call for his former newspaper colleague Boris Johnson.

He said: “The government has been recognising the impact of their decisions across other industries and stepping to support. For some reasons, and I suspect it is because many cabinet ministers don’t actually like sport but like going to art galleries, they have decided to support art galleries and museums and let football clubs go to the wall.

“As a football club, as a supporter, as someone who is passionate about football and what it does for society, I think that is disgraceful. Absolutely disgraceful, that they should blithely assume the show goes on even though they constantly cut across the business model.

“They don’t understand on any level that clubs have a social function. That is the fundamental problem with the current government’s position.

Sunderland shareholder Charlie Methven is naturally a conservative, but has blasted the government for now recognising the power of football in small towns

“I say this as a former journalist on a conservative supporting paper (The Telegraph) it is very different when you speak to Labour politicians. The conservative politicians are blithely unaware of the charitable work football clubs do, in the community, and appear unconcerned by it which I find horrifying actually.”

To put is simply, the whole business model of football has been wrecked by the government’s ban on fans in stadia.

Methven added: “Back in April, May clubs thought: Let’s grit our teeth and get through. Dig into reserves and our pockets, this could be a short term thing. Once the government has decided, with no scientific basis whatsoever, they are banning you from making your revenue, it would be foolhardy to say month after month, year after year we are going to keep carrying this cost base, while being banned from doing what our business is.

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“Pre-COVID some clubs were sailing close to the wind. This is different. It is a government policy which stops football clubs from having a business. They have to step forward and say we recognise the impact of our policies and we see the social function of clubs and we will bear the cost of that decision.

“We should also recognise Premier League clubs are having problems too and struggling to work their model around no gate receipts and corporate hospitality coming in. I don’t think it should come to getting support from the Premier League.

“Unless they wake up very very quickly there are going to be some historic football club names going to the wall. Sunderland won’t be one of them. We have been ultra cautious in the way we set the club up. But other clubs will be and through no fault of their own. It is nothing to do with overspending. They had every right to expect to have the ability to get paying spectators in, and when the government changes the law, the impact has to be recognised.”


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