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'Clubs could hit the wall': Championship sides reveal coronavirus concerns as financial fears grow deeper



Ards chairman Brian Adams says his players have concerns over a return to action.

Ards chairman Brian Adams says his players have concerns over a return to action.

Newry City manager Darren Mullen

Newry City manager Darren Mullen

Ards chairman Brian Adams says his players have concerns over a return to action.

Clubs in the NIFL Championship have given a sharp 'no' to any suggestions of playing matches behind closed doors.

And while a NIFL statement released on Friday night said that "there remains a desire from member clubs to conclude the current season by playing all remaining fixtures", a survey of players at one particular club has revealed fears over returning to action that could torpedo any plans to play matches.

A Sunday Life Sport investigation into how the coronavirus crisis has impacted tier two clubs since football was suspended two months ago has revealed major concerns over the long-term sustainability of the game at that level beyond the current season unless financial assistance is forthcoming from either the Irish FA or the Stormont Executive.

The financial implications of the enforced shutdown vary across the division, mainly in line with attendance figures, but one common thread that runs throughout is the fear that non-football income could dry up and leave clubs in a perilous position.

Clubs at all levels rely heavily on sponsorship income, but particularly at the lower end of the Championship, where there is less money coming in through gate receipts.

A spokesman from PSNI revealed the concerns at the club, currently bottom of the table, saying: "We aren't financed by the PSNI at all other than free use of Newforge. We don't have a catchment area and therefore gate receipts aren't big, other than a small number of games per season, so we have to generate money through sponsorship and I think that is going to be very challenging for us going forward.

"Thankfully, we have no outgoings at the minute, but we've no income either. We have a little bit of reserves, but paying officials between £200 and £250 a game would soon wipe that out if we don't get some financial assistance."

With costs attached to the upkeep of their facilities and pitch, those concerns are shared at fellow relegation strugglers Knockbreda.

Colin Russell from the Castlereagh-based club said: "We have sponsors who are good to us, but when all this ends we would be frightened to ask businesses for money.

"I know that one of the businesses who has backed us is haemorrhaging money at present and we couldn't expect them to give us a few thousand pounds for a kit.

"We don't have any money coming in at the minute, but we still have bills to pay with insurance and maintenance. Our biggest electric bill of the year, which covers January and February, came in just after the lockdown in March.

"We sprayed and seeded the pitch and that needs cut every five days, which costs us £50 a go, and that will need to be done six times a month.

"I don't think there is a club in the country who won't be affected and playing behind closed doors and the costs attached to that - aside from the health concerns - make that a no-no."

Even Portadown, who were six points clear in the fight for promotion and on course for a return to the Premiership after three seasons outside the top flight, are anticipating a blow coming their way.

Ports chairman Ronnie Stinson said: "We have no income at present and, while we don't have any debt right now, if this goes on for a while we could end up in debt.

"We do need to carry out some work at the ground and the longer we go without playing, the less likely we are to be able to bring sponsorship in.

"Businesses will be facing a tough time and will prioritise trying to keep themselves afloat.

"Our agreement with our main sponsor, Manfreight, is up. We are hopeful that they will come on board again because they have been very good right down to youth level, but they will be facing a tight time.

"We did have £1,000 and then another £1,500 advanced from NIFL, but if this goes on until September then clubs could hit the wall."

Ards, who don't have any expenses as far as their ground is concerned as they are tenants at Bangor's Clandeboye Park, have lost out on income, but the concerns for chairman Brian Adams, who is also the chair of NIFL, go beyond the financial implications.

"I surveyed our players just to see how they would feel with regards to playing again," he said.

"A small number of players have reservations about playing. When asked if they would be happy to be treated by a physio on the pitch, to share a dressing room home and away and happy to travel to games on a bus or sharing cars with other players, there were more players with concerns about those issues.

"The income from match sponsors and ball sponsors has obviously stopped and the fear is that there will be difficulty trying to bring that kind of sponsorship in next season.

"Usually we have gate receipts, programme sales, a share of the food and drink sales and a special efforts committee raising money.

"We had our annual sponsored walk scheduled for March, which usually brings in £2,000 to £3,000. We've lost that too."

Newry City, who like Ards were relegated from the Premiership last season, also expect to face difficulty in generating income from outside sources as they, like Portadown, try to re-engage their main backer.

Manager Darren Mullen said: "We will have to re-evaluate our budget going forward and this situation will bring different challenges for us.


Newry City manager Darren Mullen

Newry City manager Darren Mullen

Newry City manager Darren Mullen


"Going out and looking for sponsorship is going to be something that will be difficult for all clubs with businesses trying to stay afloat.

"We don't have any gate receipts coming in. We have other match day income that has stopped as well.

"It will be difficult for us to go and sell advertising boards around the ground and we are due to renegotiate with our main sponsor, the Canal Court Hotel, this summer as well and all that is up in the air at the minute."

Belfast Telegraph