'Abandoned' Scarborough Athletic 'facing ruin' after falling through the cracks of Government coronavirus response

Scarborough Athletic are one of three Northern Premier League clubs to have written to culture secretary Oliver Dowden complaining they “are facing ruin for having business models that rely on high supporter engagement”.
BEHIND CLOSED DOORS: Scarborough Athletic supporters are not allowed into the Flamingo Land StadiumBEHIND CLOSED DOORS: Scarborough Athletic supporters are not allowed into the Flamingo Land Stadium
BEHIND CLOSED DOORS: Scarborough Athletic supporters are not allowed into the Flamingo Land Stadium

Atheltic, South Shields, and FC United of Manchester have argued the Government's “one-size-fits-all” approach to helping grassroots football through the coronavirus is punishing them unfairly for running their clubs in what would previously have been seen as “the right way”.

The Government is in discussions about possible bailouts and rescue packages for clubs in the second to sixth tiers of English football, who have been forced to play behind closed doors whilst the teams below have been allowed limited numbers of spectators based on their divisions. Hours after the letter was sent it was confirmed that the National League will start as planned on Saturday after "confirmation of significant financial grant-aid support from the Government to compensate clubs for essential revenue lost from fans not returning in October".

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The season had been delayed until October 3 but it was planned for supporters to be allowed back in all stadia by then, only for Downing Street to backtrack last week.

Supporters are allowed into Northern Premier League Premier Division games but the limit is 600 and local authorities have halved that for South Shields, whilst no fans are being allowed into Scarborough's Flamingo Land Stadium. Ahtletic's average gate last season was 1,001 last season.

Chairman Trevor Bull has spoken of a “feeling of abandonment” at the lack of financial support.

The letter said that: “We believe that there is a flawed perception that all grassroots football clubs can sustain themselves within the current government restrictions and would agree that this is the case for the vast majority.

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“However, we would draw your attention that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t take into account that there are a handful of clubs caught between a now subsidised elite and the grassroots restrictions which are in danger of forcing us out of existence.”

South Shields' average gates last season were 1,671, whilst at FC United – a club formed in protest to the Glazer family's takeover at Manchester United – it was 1,668. The letter points out that the number of supporters locked out by the covid-19 restrictions at those club is greater than the total average crowds at 30 clubs in the National League, which takes in 67 fifth and sixth-tier clubs. In Scarborough's case it is greater than three.

“The situation is unsustainable for our clubs at the current government level of restriction but that is not the end of our problems as some local authorities are now imposing their own restrictions which go beyond what was decided by the DCMS,” they stressed.

“To compound matters, new regulations brought in last week requiring all food and drink to be purchased and consumed at tables will seriously reduce the food and beverage revenue we also rely on as supporters will no longer be able to take these out on the stands and terraces and we will be restricted to limited seated social club service.

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“We understand that we are only a handful of clubs who have slipped between the cracks of elite and grassroots, but we feel abandoned.

“We are facing ruin for having business models that rely on high supporter engagement, something which prior to covid had always been regarded as the way clubs should be run.

“We would ask you to consider that we are good, sustainable clubs in greater difficulty than many National League clubs. Our clubs matter to us, they matter to our supporters and they matter to our local communities.”

Robert Goodwill, MP for Scarborough and Whitby, has also signed the letter, along with Football Supporters Association chairman Malcolm Clarke.

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Scarborough Athletic are a “phoenix” club formed when its predecessor, former Football League club Scarborough, folded in 2007.

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