Words: Terry Robinson; Picture: Chorley FC
WE know what you’re thinking, because we’re all wondering it ourselves; will the 2020/21 season kick-off, and if so, when?
Your Club – Our Club – have had one aim since football’s shutdown in mid-March, to get us ready for the 2020/2021 season.
We started preparing after being promoted to the National League. Regulations meant upgrades to the ground became mandatory. We have had to improve facilities under the stand, including in the dressing rooms with increased wash basins, new and upgraded toilets and many cosmetic improvements.
We have completed the new exit onto Rangletts Rec as well as installing new crush barriers in the Duke Street End, increasing the capacity to 4000+. We’ve also done resurfacing work at both ends of Victory Park, with further upgrades to follow at the Pilling Lane End. The cost: £50,000, covered in part by a Football Foundation grant of £20,000. Other remedial work is ongoing to our ageing main stand, but we are ready for the season.
On the calendar we’re down to kick-off against Gateshead in the FA Cup at Victory Park on Saturday, followed by our opening National League North fixture at York City a week today. Unfortunately, we have a problem – the government have stopped clubs above the Northern Premier League having spectators.
Last Wednesday the National League North had a video meeting with nearly all clubs present. The clubs are a mix of views, financial levels and different aims and goals. It was therefore interesting to note that 80 percent agreed we, as a league, could not start unless our income losses due to Covid-19 were somehow subsidised to enable all clubs to pay wages.
Our income comes mainly from gate receipts, coupled with match day sponsorship and various other initiatives tied to Victory Park match days. League monies came early to compensate for last seasons early finish. Income has been very much reduced with, at one point this summer, the Black and White Premier Draw being our only source of revenue.
The social club, which is usually a hive of activity, has been completely closed since March – another important revenue stream that has been non-existent. And this is before we throw in the cancellation of the Thirsty Magpie Beer Festival.
The major problem at this moment in time is when we kick-off on Saturday against Gateshead player contracts commence for 2020/21. It would be irresponsible and a dereliction of duty for those running football clubs to commence the season without supporters and with no compensation agreed. It is believed the National League and the government are in talks and hopefully before Friday we will have some positive news.
If it is possible to start the season we will then have other problems to sort out. How will we bring football to our season ticket holders and supporters?
We are in discussions to offer high quality live streaming of matches to supporters – Season Ticket Holders will get the service free of charge, with everyone else able to buy individual games or a season pass, for a competitive price.
We also plan to sell seats in the social club where games will be on big screens, both in the main room and, if there’s enough interest, with a meal in the 1883 Lounge. This is a real possibility and we would like to gauge if there is interest from our fanbase.
What if there’s no assistance or compensation to compensate for loss of crowds. We need and want to play. We are researching an easy payment structure which will allow the purchase of shares, released from existing shareholders.
We are also looking at other areas of raising money and have recently gone into partnership with Sunderland’s main shirt sponsor – Great Annual Savings – agreeing commercial utility savings for all our supporters and sponsors who wish to save money and support the club.
An affinity project where supporters or people who wish to see football continue at Victory Park is in the works, too. This would be a small monthly amount by Direct Debit and there will be different initiatives like membership of the Black and White Premier Draw with club shop discounts.
An example of how well this system can work – a new phoenix club recently saw 800 members sign up at £5 a month. We are working on these initiatives and will continue to canvas views.
We had already trimmed budgets and utilised the furlough scheme to ensure our Club could start 2020/21. We have approached Chorley Council for discussions and this latest setback through government policy now brings this initiative to the fore.
We want to start playing, but we don’t want to play if it will financially kill our club. Since Chorley FC was founded 137 years ago the Club has only temporarily stopped playing due to two World Wars. We came into being in 1883 and we’re still here in 2020 – we’ve never folded, gone bankrupt, merged or been forced to reform. We intend for this trend to continue.
We will continue to keep everyone in the loop; without you there’s no club. However, supporters have to accept we all need to work together for the club to survive these difficult times.