Boom and Bust is normally synonymous with the national economy and how it is performing. However, we are now experiencing a similar scenario within the non-league family on a more regular basis. This season, in the Southern Premier League alone, we have been involved in a supporters’ takeover because the club was left in a perilous position; Gosport Borough has been in a similar situation; and as recently as last week Merthyr Town announced it was in serious financial difficulties, having to release its first team squad. Gosport Borough have been given a reprieve as a benefactor has stepped in to help out the club and we wish the club all the best in its fight for a long-term future. The same sentiments apply to Merthyr Town, as we do not wish see any club in difficulty. Both clubs have been very generous to us in terms of their advice, guidance and support, whilst we fight to re-build the club so it becomes a sustainable community-based club.
However, we are not the only clubs experiencing difficulties, as the Non-League Paper consistently highlights the difficulties faced by many clubs in just trying to survive.
Now that the new committee has been in situ for about six months, we have a greater appreciation of what it takes to run a club playing in the seventh tier of the English football system. From the outset, we knew we could not sustain a player budget and all credit to the players who have come forward to represent the club during these difficult times. We have to be prudent and in Dudley Peacham and Neil Barker, we have two officials who constantly ensure we meet all our financial obligations. We have settled outstanding debts, we pay our bills on time and only spend what we can afford. How long this approach will be sustainable, we honestly do not know but we will not spend money we do not have.
Based on our experiences, limited they may be, we believe the time is right for non-league clubs to take a good hard look at themselves for the sake of the future of football at this level. We believe greater mandatory and statutory financial oversight of clubs is paramount; there should be a salary cap; a designated pathway from the development squad to the first team; agreements with professional clubs for the free or nominal fee loan of young players so they can get valuable game-time and match-day experiences; and that clubs at our level should be run as collective, responsible and accountable not-for-profit enterprises that are not reliant on benefactors.
The costs of running non-league clubs must be reduced or we face losing local clubs and fans will walk away, sick and tired of their local club lurching from one crisis to another, asking “…where did all the money go?”. Clubs may have to take the decision to ask what the correct level of football is that they should be playing at. If it needs to be at a lower level, so be it, if it means a club will survive, be sustainable and thrive in the long-term.
Rest assured, we as a committee are prepared to make such choices so we can have a club that we can all call our own and be proud of.