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Linnets’ National League season under severe threat because of funding uncertainty

todayJanuary 18, 2021 5

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King’s Lynn Town chairman Stephen Cleeve has called on the government to look at the bigger picture as the future of the National League season hangs in the balance.

Concerned National League clubs are waiting to hear the full details of the conditions attached to the next tranche of government funding after being told the money will arrive as loans rather than grants.

League chiefs are due to consult with clubs on Wednesday.

King's Lynn Town chairman Stephen Cleeve.. (36853323)
King’s Lynn Town chairman Stephen Cleeve.. (36853323)

Cleeve said: “In reality it’s going to be split into two camps – those who want to continue the season and those who don’t.

“For the vast majority of clubs, if you haven’t got much to play for and you haven’t got the means financially to compete, you’re not going to want to borrow – in our case – the best part of £400,000 to complete until the end of the season when it was promised it to us in a different way.

“So I think there are going to be those who will fight tooth and nail to carry on – and that’s not a wrong position, that’s right for them – and there are others, like myself, thinking, ‘What you’re asking me to do is borrow or find £400,000 to stay in this league’.

Cleeve believes if funding is providing in the form of loans then it will spell the end of the season.

“If the government say it is a loan, my guess is the league will stop,” he said.

“Because everyone is going to have to borrow money and no one is going to want to do that. I can’t see it continuing. That is going to have repercussions for sponsorship.

“I can see the National League North and South leagues ceasing immediately, which will mean no promotion or relegation, and where does it leave other clubs in the top flight?

“If the government refuse to give it as grants, let’s take King’s Lynn Town Football Club as an example. We’ve probably got around 30 people on our payroll.

“We’ll have to furlough everyone and the net result is the government is going to lose money from us and be picking up the tab anyhow. The only way they’re not going to pay it is if people like me find the money and carry on.

“We are stuck. The government promised, they are the ones who made the rules and stopped us trading and have shut the grounds down.

“We’re in that unique spot where we’ve got no income but we have to continue. I do hope the DCMS make the right decision as it’s a short-termism attitude, penny-wise and pound poor.

“The government does need to take a broader view and understanding that if the league doesn’t continue is the result will be furloughed players.”

Grants will only be available to clubs in exceptional circumstances and the National League is now encouraging clubs to contact their local MP’s to ask them to lobby DCMS.

The Walks, home of King's Lynn Town FC.. (38641327)
The Walks, home of King’s Lynn Town FC.. (38641327)

Only last month, 12 National League North clubs issued a joint damning statement aimed at the DCMS and the FA over financial support.

They called on the DCMS and The FA ‘not to betray the trust’ of clubs who agreed to commence the current season on the understanding that grants would be provided to replace essential lost revenue.

The joint-statement read: “When National League clubs agreed in October to start the season playing behind closed doors, this decision was based on reassurances that grants would be provided to compensate for essential revenue lost from fans not returning on October 1.

“Had these assurances not been provided then many clubs at our level may have taken the decision not to commence the season.

The Walks, home of King's Lynn Town FC.. (34402452)
The Walks, home of King’s Lynn Town FC.. (34402452)

“Matchday revenue from supporters attending games and its associated income streams are the lifeblood for our clubs.

“We are grateful to the Government, The FA, and the National Lottery for recognising this and the roles our clubs play in their communities. We thank them for the grant support we have received to date.

“The initial package of £10m was to cover the first three months of the season with the clear understanding that grants would continue until it was safe for crowds to return.

“There was absolutely no mention of loans at that time.

“We have all worked diligently to comply with elite sport protocols and ensure a prudent approach to financial management based upon the reassurances given in October.

“We the undersigned clubs therefore call on the Secretary of State Oliver Dowden, the Department of Culture, Media & Sport and The FA not to betray the trust National League clubs placed in them by agreeing to commence the season and to ensure the additional £11m in support is in the form of grants not loans.”

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