FOOTBALL behind closed doors has been declared a financial non-starter by Rotherham’s leading amateur clubs after the plug was pulled on league matches for the rest of the year.
The Northern Counties East League this week took the decision to suspend league fixtures until January at the earliest after a poll of its member clubs showed 80 per cent did not want to play without crowds.
Maltby Main, Parkgate and Swallownest are among the 37 teams out of 40 teams placed into Tier 3 and therefore unable to admit spectators to matches.
Swallownest said the news was “disappointing but not surprising” while Parkgate and Maltby stated it was not financially viable to play on without regular matchday income.
Parkgate chairman Albert Dudhill said: “We said we couldn’t play without spectators because we have too many overheads. We have full-time ground staff and have had to furlough some of them. The pavilion is closed, so there is no income from that. It is just not feasible.
“It is not just about paying for the referee, the laundry and things like that, it is the loss of income from other things as well.
“At the end of the day if you don’t cut according to the cloth then you go out of business, even at our level.”
Those thoughts were echoed at Maltby Main, who abstained from the vote due to the lack of a ruling from the league as to how the season will be concluded if it fails to finish.
Maltby chairman Wilf Race conceded: “Eighty per cent of the clubs saw it (playing without spectators) as a backward step.
“A few like us have built up a bit of a kitty over the last few years but I would hate to think seven years of prudence went down the drain because we had to play the remainder of our games without any fans.
“In a normal season we take £9,000 to £10,000 through the gate. Add on to that another 20 per cent from raffles and various other activities we do on a matchday and you are looking at about £12,000. If you take that out of your income then near the close of the season we would be dicing in negative territory financially which is not good for a club of our standard.”
NCEL clubs are already a month behind with fixtures due to November’s lockdown.
Maltby still have 30 league games to play in the Premier Division while in Division One Parkgate have played nine of their 38 fixtures and Swallownest only seven.
With the worst of the winter weather still to come, the chance of the league season not finishing is very real. Covid-19 also caused last season to be abandoned.
Parkgate have suffered more than their fair share of postponements in recent times and would have wanted a relatively trouble-free run through the dark months.
Mr Dudhill added: “We go into bad weather in January and February, that’s the worry. If we get three or four weeks off for bad weather — which is very easy to do in those months — we are going to find it difficult to get our matches in.
“Even if the season was extended until the end of June, what would happen for the next season? If by that time the lockdown has finished and you can travel, half the players will be wanting to go on holiday in June and July.
“It is difficult, there is no doubt about it.”
At Maltby, Mr Race said a mechanism on how to decide the season should it be cut short should have been decided by now so that clubs had the full facts in front of them.
The NCEL committee meet on January 2 to decide the next move.