Following feedback in our Club Survey from WoSFL member clubs, the Interim Management Group have written to 26 MSPs, including Joe Fitzpatrick MSP, Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing to lobby them regarding the return of supporters to non-league football in Scotland.
In the letter which you can read in full below, the IMG make the case for the return of fans to non-league matches, highlighting the specific benefits and necessities of running matches and divisions at this level.
The letter which has been sent to each MSP relates directly to clubs in their constituencies but the letter produced below is generalised for ease of reading.
Due to the implications of the Coronavirus pandemic, non-league football in Scotland is facing a crisis with the future of many clubs in doubt.
In the West of Scotland League, part of the Scottish FA’s pyramid system, there are 67 member clubs, all of whom play a vital role in their communities. Many are community clubs with teams at various age levels to allow everyone the opportunity to play the beautiful game.
Clubs from your own constituency, may be struggling to participate in the forthcoming football season because currently there are no spectators allowed to attend non-league football. The income from spectators is vital for these clubs, not only in terms of gate receipts but also from the income generated from half time raffles, selling refreshments in the shop and even in providing advertising for local businesses who may be unwilling to pay out for ground advertising if there is no one there to see their advert.
Even the smaller clubs in our league will turnover around £30,000 per year, which in turn, based on calculations by the Scottish Town Centre Partnership, has an economic impact of around £200,000 to the local economy. In our West of Scotland area alone, based even on a conservative average figure of £50k turnover, this will equate to around £25 million per year. The true economic value to local communities throughout West of Scotland will increase substantially when you take into consideration of the turnover that some of the bigger non-league clubs may generate in a season, which could be in excess of £200,000 per year.
Non-League football clubs have to be run as businesses. Many employ players whilst others may only pay expenses but they are all buying services from local companies, whether that be the pies fans eat at half time through to the equipment to maintain their facilities. Despite this however, when clubs applied for the various COVID grants or loan schemes offered to businesses by the Scottish Government, clubs’ are told that they are not eligible.
Whilst clubs in the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) have been able to benefit from such assistance as well as handouts from wealthy benefactors like James Anderson, clubs at our level have not received a penny!
Now there is the prospect of the new season starting with clubs having to play competitive matches without any spectators and that will put the future of many at risk.
There are also the health benefits to non-league football. Not just the improved physical activity of the players but also the mental health benefits football has on players and spectators alike. Being able to get outdoors and watch your team play can have great advantages for people, whether or not they win.
Another key benefit players and spectators get from football is the social aspect from standing with your mates at a game through to playing with your teammates. In this respect we fully understand the need to address the current pandemic and to prevent further increases or spikes in cases. Clubs are aware of the necessity of this to protect public health and fully support measures required to prevent the spread of this virus.
The average attendance at a non-league match will be well below 300. Only the bigger clubs will achieve attendances higher than that. And given the size of our stadiums, that is a number that most clubs could easily accommodate with the appropriate Covid safety measures in place. We are not looking at the 50,000 plus fans who flock to Celtic Park or Ibrox each week.
Clubs in our league have adhered to all the guidance given to them by the SFA following their discussions with the Scottish Government. They have provided and implemented risk assessments to allow them to return to training and to playing the game. Without additional financial support they have purchased the PPE, temperature guns and sanitiser required. With appropriate support we could accommodate a return of supporters to watch the game at our level, providing both much needed income to the clubs and local economy but improving the health and wellbeing of fans and players alike.
Therefore I ask if you would be willing to support our campaign to allow the return of supporters to watch non-league football in a friendly and safe environment. Outdoors and with social distancing, there may be no better arena than non-league football to provide a safe environment to watch a match, thus allowing the clubs to generate vital income, support the local economy and improve the health and wellbeing of players and fans alike.
on behalf of Interim Management Group, West of Scotland Football League