Sports Writer Jack Wooldridge speaks to Alvechurch chairman Richard Thorndike about how coronavirus has affected his club and what the uncertain future holds.
I spoke with Richard Thorndike, chairman of Alvechurch FC, about the impact of coronavirus on his club and others at a similar level, as well as his thoughts on what should happen with the football season. Alvechurch are a local side and play in the Southern Premier (the seventh tier), which has followed many other leagues in suspending its fixtures for the foreseeable future.
How much of a blow is the league’s suspension financially to a club like Alvechurch? What are the challenges of this unprecedented decision for your club?
‘The main challenge for non-league clubs like ours is to continue to find players wages [and] expenses when there is no income via home fixtures. Many of us live hand to mouth, running with extremely tight budgets based on a 40-week season. Contracted players must still be paid, even when there are no games, and non-contracted players at our level rely heavily on the money they earn from football, so we have to look at the financial security of the club whilst considering the players income. Temporary suspension of the league is ok because the games will be caught up and even a complete cancellation of the season, whilst harsh, would still be a better option than some suggestions being mooted at the moment of playing all fixtures behind closed doors. This latter option would be devastating to small clubs who would have no gate money, food or wet sales yet still have to pay the players.’
If it is safe to do so, would it be feasible for your league season to be completed in the summer or would this not be possible in non-league?
‘Really depends on the dates. The off-season is critically important for the well-being of the players. They take time off to relax and unwind and most have summer holidays already planned. I’m not certain on the medical evidence but it’s clear that a sustained period of rest is important for their health and safety. If the summer league looked like it needed to continue through June and perhaps some of July, then I think this would be out of the question.’
What are your thoughts on the option of your season being voided? Are there any other potential options for the Southern Premier if the season cannot be completed this summer?
‘We’re hearing several different possibilities being considered should the season be cancelled. Obviously, I’m speaking from a biased position given that we’re second from bottom albeit with games in hand. Personally, I feel that if the season is cancelled with, in some cases, over a quarter of the season still to play, then it should be classed as void with no promotions or relegations. Trying average points per game with so many games left seems unfair especially because the mix of teams played won’t be the same for all teams. You could have someone going for promotion who still has five out of the top six to play and likewise you could have someone currently residing in the bottom three but with a host of games against the bottom sides.’
Do you think voiding the season would work better in non-league football rather than in elite football (due to the financial rewards in the top tiers)? If so, which tier should be the cut-off point if the higher tiers’ seasons had to be completed and the lower tiers were voided?
‘I think if the decision is made to void the season at the highest level then it should filter down to all teams in the non-league pyramid that haven’t fulfilled at least 75% of their fixtures.’
Aside from non-league, what do you think should happen with the Premier League and EFL? Should they be voided or not? Do you have any other suggestions on a solution to this debate?
‘It’s tough trying to think of a solution when we’re right in the middle of the disruption caused by the coronavirus with no real end in sight. Although the news may be difficult to take, I think all that teams and fans want is clarity.
‘On a personal note, I’m struggling with all of the disruption caused by a virus which is far milder than the common seasonal flu but I recognise that there are vulnerable people in our society so stopping the spread is important. Possibly more important than football. Possibly!’