Guest column: Sheffield FC ready to adapt as uncertainty grips non-league clubs
What impact is Covid-19 having on the non-league football scene and how are our clubs coping?
In a guest column, Sheffield FC’s match secretary Andrew Dixon provides an update from the Home of Football Stadium.
One of the biggest challenges for so many of us recently has been uncertainty, which is true for Sheffield FC and non-league football more widely.
As a club there are huge challenges now, not least because it is so difficult to guess what is going to happen next.
Off the pitch times are hard but then that’s always the case at our level it seems!
The lack of income from the last few months has had an impact but I guess we’re luckier than sides higher up the pyramid, who have players and staff on full-time contracts.
I have seen quite a few sides launching fundraising schemes though and I would guess that the future of some clubs is under threat, depending on what happens over the next few months.
At Sheffield we’ve been proud to use our time in that respect trying to raise funds for the NHS, through our NHS United campaign, and our supporters have been brilliant with that, with many wanting to donate refunds from their 2019/20 season tickets.
In terms of what has happened the club supports the quick decision to end the season.
Unlike the teams at the highest levels we simply couldn’t have seen the season out without supporters at matches.
In fact, I’d say non-league sides generally wouldn’t want to play without the fans who are the heartbeat of the game for us.
It seems strange that they were so quick to declare our league as null and void whilst promotion and relegation look set to happen at all levels above ours and I can understand why the sides at the top of the table are unhappy.
Manager Gavin Smith told me everyone was “gutted” when the season ended.
We had won three of our last four league games and were still very much focused on two cup competitions.
We had a tough-looking League Cup quarter-final coming up but, having beaten FC United of Manchester and then the cup holders in the previous two rounds, we were confident.
Also we were one game away from a cup final at Bramall Lane in the Sheffield & Hallamshire FA Cup.
To lose those chances of lifting a trophy, and playing at a Premier League ground, is tough but we must accept it and move on.
Now we are just waiting for news on what comes next.
The management have spoken to all the players and know who has agreed to stay for next season, who will be leaving and have had conversations with potential new signings but we are still not clear when next season will be!
Gavin told me there are rumours it could start anywhere between September and January so it is a game of wait and see just now before anything can be announced, although some clubs seem to be making offers and announcements so I’m not sure if they know something we don’t?!
We had a bit of a tidy up at the ground the other day and took a look at the pitch, which needs some work of course, but these things cost money to maintain and that’s another aspect where we are just having to wait and see.
Whenever and however we return, I think things are going to be different at our level.
Gavin told me that he thinks there will be a big impact on league clubs, never mind lower league clubs like ourselves.
Some sides will fold and non-league clubs will need support from their fans and local businesses to help out.
“Wages won't be what players have been used to over the past few years as clubs won’t have loads of money if sponsors are not putting in as much money due to Covid-19,” he added.
General manager Richard Sheldon told me that we haven’t been able to set a playing budget as yet but are unlikely to be taking players on contract and will have to be prudent with what we can do.
I think the only clubs who won’t be scaling back budgets and ambitions next season will be those with individuals able to put large amounts of money in.
The longer-term ambitions, to move ground and to keep strengthening and improving the foundations of the club, remain very much as they have done and chairman Richard Tims has been working hard to keep everything moving forwards throughout.
This pandemic has been hard on everyone but whatever uncertainty remains as we start return to normal life the world’s oldest football club will still be here and, as always, will appreciate your support.
*How is your club coping with Covid-19? If you are interested in writing a guest column for The Star email [email protected]