By Brad Groves, Chief Executive, Spennymoor Town FC
After our 2019/20 campaign finally ended on Wednesday, I have taken a couple of days to reflect on another year of progress and digest the situation in which Spennymoor Town FC finds itself.
Throughout the coronavirus crisis, the club has followed a strategy to communicate regularly and clearly, whether through the board, fan groups, the MD or myself. The same cannot be said for the powers that be in English football.
Having spent 20 years in non-league and 11 years running Spennymoor Town, the past few months have shown me beyond all doubt that football in this country is beset by an all-consuming greed for money.
Non-league is the foundation on which English football is built and it has been allowed to crumble.
Premier League footballers can get Coronavirus tests, yet some of our friends and family members who are key workers have struggled. We have lost more than 42,000 people in this country and the only thing that seems to have gone swimmingly is Premier League Covid testing.
Meanwhile, the teams who made it into the step two play-offs are being left to foot the bill to test their players in order to take part, which has been estimated at more than £50,000.
We have not received a penny of support during the crisis from the higher levels of football. The only assistance Spennymoor Town has received from within the sport is an advance on next season’s National League North annual payment, which helps our cash flow but leaves a gap in next season’s budget.
Our creditors and partners have recognised the perilous situation non-league clubs have found themselves in and allowed us to manage payments appropriately in a collaborative manner. Seemingly, the authorities within football have not realised this. We are still expected to pay every penny of fines and other obligations in-full and on-time to maintain our position in the football pyramid. We are still expected to invest huge sums so our grounds meet guidelines to continue to progress, achieve promotion or even take part in play-offs.
It’s a football pyramid we are a part of when there’s money to collect from us, but not when we need support.
Non-league clubs have been abandoned to make ends meet in a state of limbo, not knowing what league they will be in, who will be alongside them, when this season is over or next season begins.
It also speaks volumes that no governing body dared to show their hand until the Premier League had made a decision. It has been followed by a stream of uneven and confusing conclusions.
Some leagues have been decided on PPG, some have been expunged altogether. Some promotions are being honoured, some are being cancelled. Clubs like South Shields in step three feel understandably aggrieved to have finished top of the league and not been rewarded.
Meanwhile, clubs in step two who have made it into the playoffs are wondering where they will find the huge sums required just to take part. Maybe they’ll be lucky enough to receive some of the spare tests from the Championship or Premier League clubs, but that would reflect a level of concern and collaboration which has not existed so far.
From inside football, the only focus that has been visible to any of us at this level has been on getting the remaining Premier League games played in order to keep the gravy train moving. So much so that matches have been shoe-horned into a sterile, practically unwatchable format. Ironically, this week’s Premier League fixtures have been lacking the most important component in making football the nation’s favourite sport: fans.
There has been a complete absence of leadership. The FA should be making decisions on what happens in English football, not the Premier League and certainly not TV channels.
It might be more palatable if the elite money ran through the sport to promote more opportunities for all, or to make it more accessible to supporters. But the chasm just continues to widen and will keep doing so until it becomes unsurmountable. The problem has only been exacerbated by the international health crisis.
Thankfully, we have been able to access some support as a club. Thank you to Durham County Council, who have backed us with a number of grants and applications. We have also taken advantage of the government’s furlough job retention scheme, which has been a great help.
But football in England has lost its soul and I’m concerned for the future of many of its clubs. The sport needs to remember that not everybody can pay £32 for a match ticket.
We are unequivocal at Spennymoor Town that football must be for everyone. Every age group, every gender, every ethnicity and every ability.
But, despite the disappointment I’m feeling today, I am positive about our club’s future.
That will be the central theme of our strategy for the coming season, whenever it may begin. Affordable football, for all.
We will offer more value for every penny people choose to spend at the club and we will ensure that their experience is second to none when they walk into The Brewery Field. We are once again investing heavily in the ground to perfect our matchday and we will be announcing these developments soon. It is absolutely something for Moors supporters to look forward to over coming weeks and I will go into the reasons behind it below.
I hope that we will have more people than ever to enjoy non-league next season. Premier League partners Sky and BT made it very difficult to cancel your subscriptions when football came to a halt, meaning those who aren’t tech-savvy had to wait in phone queues for hours to speak to an advisor. Unsurprisingly, they are now churning out special offers to attract people to watch the drab, lifeless end to the season in empty stadiums.
I am of the opinion that this will have turned more people away from the soulless elite and we will be ready with open arms at The Brewery Field when they go searching for somewhere they can enjoy football the right way again.
We are proud to offer one of the most hospitable and enjoyable away days for visiting fans already, with the Moors Tavern, the offers within the ground and an invariably warm and friendly family atmosphere amongst our supporters. But we have identified areas we will improve before next season too. We will be addressing segregation points and reviewing our plans in this area after one learning experience last season. We are also removing match category grading for visiting fans so every team is charged the same amount. Affordable football for all doesn’t just include Spennymoor supporters; we want it to apply to the rest of our league and neutrals as well.
THE SOCIAL VALUE OF FOOTBALL
The cost of a child or young person playing in our academy will be the lowest in the region, if not the country, for the standard of coaching, equipment, safeguarding and enjoyment they get from this club. We have more than 600 children discovering their love of football in our academy and we have a responsibility to them to make football accessible.
Elsewhere in our academy set-up, we are proud of the championship-winning performance of our ladies’ team in their first competitive season. Again, the decisions made by the governing bodies up and down the ladies’ football structure have been baffling. Some promotions are taking place, some are not, making the situation harder than it needs to be for clubs trying to navigate the uncertainty. We have had so much support and interest in this team that we are creating a development side in our set-up, meaning we will have two teams. We will make football accessible and affordable for as many ladies wanting to play the game as we can.
We are mindful of the impact that football clubs have on their communities. We will do even more to make sure that this club is putting value into the area, not sucking it out. We have a number of exciting projects in development that we feel will exemplify this, which I can’t wait to reveal. We are galvanising those around us, whether they are businesses, organisations, councils, community groups, schools, charities or even other football clubs to deliver social value and enjoyment. We have held events to honour emergency services, armed forces, the NHS, transport, education and have more club partners in a wider range of sectors than ever before.
Throughout the Coronavirus crisis we have been asked about next season’s ticket prices. We have told every person who has asked not to worry about next season. We have urged supporters to concentrate on their own family and their own finances.
SEASON TICKET REFUNDS
In line with this, now we know the season is definitely finished, we are prepared to offer all of our season ticket holders a refund on the outstanding three games of the 2019/20 season they never saw.
The greed of the likes of Sky and BT I mentioned earlier made me feel even more strongly that we must offer this and the Board and staff at the club are in total agreement that this option should be presented.
Our season ticket holders showed such loyalty and desire last season that I know many will want to leave that money with the club in the form of a donation, which we greatly appreciate and no action is required to do so.
But I want to make it clear that anyone deciding that they need that money back in the current climate should apply for the refund with the full backing of Spennymoor Town FC.
Refund values for three league games:
Family ticket £42.86
As I’ve said, we are committing to making football affordable for all. But we will not be releasing season ticket prices until we know when next season will begin. We will not be taking advanced payments from supporters at a time of crisis. Please be assured that we will be ready to welcome you back to a bigger and even better experience at The Brewery Field next season.
ON THE PITCH
On the pitch, I was bitterly disappointed that we only finished eighth in the league. Had the season continued to its natural conclusion I am confident we would have made it into the play-offs, but make no mistake, I think we all expected more having achieved so much and come within a penalty of promotion the season before.
We certainly have no qualms over the points per game method and where we ultimately ended up. It’s just about the only area in which I have sympathy for the governing bodies. Somebody was always going to be upset. There are no hard feelings there and I’d like to wish those who take part in the play-offs the best of luck.
But next year we are aiming higher. We have already made three very strong new signings and plan to bring in real quality with further additions. We’re working with those players to complete deals and I look forward to announcing soon. I hope to be able to share three major signings in the next week to 10 days, so keep your eyes on our channels to find out first.
The squad is going to be in a position to have a real, purposeful run at promotion to the National League and it will be an exciting time to watch our team.
We usually hold a market-leading presentation evening at Ramside Hall for all of our academy and the first team. For obvious reasons that can’t happen this year, but I still feel that it is important to celebrate the successes of the season, including league wins in our academy and for our ladies, as well as real progress at all levels of the club. The Board are pulling together a proposal to hold this in a way that people can still enjoy over the summer.
Ultimately, Spennymoor Town may have been forgotten when it mattered by the elite levels of football. But we won’t forget what matters most in this sport. We are putting people at the heart of everything.
We sent out a rallying call at the start of last season. We did our bit and you responded in record numbers. We’re going even further for next season. I know I can rely on you to do the same again as this club looks to write the next chapter in its incredible journey.
Stay safe and enjoy your summer as much as you can.