Welwyn Garden City chairman urges PL clubs to offer help to grassroots football

Welwyn Garden City chairman Ray Fiveash has told Premier League sides to put their financial plights into perspective as the coronavirus pandemic continues to threaten grassroots football.

As professional clubs count the cost of the delay in returning supporters to stadiums after an increase in Covid-19 cases, there have been calls for a rethink to help those whose finances are in turmoil.

But, further down the pyramid, the measures put in place to combat the spread of coronavirus continue to jeopardise the future of non-league and local teams.

The ‘State of Play’ report, commissioned by energy firm Utilita and released on Monday, revealed 10 per-cent of grassroots clubs fear closure in the coming months.

Former England goalkeeper David James visited the home of Welwyn Garden City FC to raise awareness of the effect Covid-19 is having on grassroots football.

One such club is Welwyn Garden City, who play in the Southern League Division One Central from their Herns Way ground.

Welwyn played their first game in over six months on September 12 with a 2-0 win over Saffron Walden – but many of their revenue streams have been cut off by Covid-19 guidelines.

Due to celebrate their centenary next summer, there are now genuine concerns the club will not be around to toast their 100-year existence – something Fiveash believes puts into stark reality the different challenges faces clubs like Welwyn Garden City and their Premier League equivalents.

“They are worried about losing money, we are worried about losing our very club,” he told the PA news agency.

“The issue at grassroots level, when you get to the senior team, it becomes very expensive.

“Covid came along, they locked us all down, that is fine but we depend on things like our bar – that subsidises our sponsorship and without that we go backwards.

“We have to pay water bills, electricity bills all things like that. We have a ground to maintain even when there is no football.

“The figures don’t surprise me one bit. Without a shadow of a doubt the Government have a terrible job to do but we are struggling and falling between the cracks.”

Fiveash feels more should be done to ensure the revenue created at the top of the game is filtering through to help the clubs in peril.

“Most professional clubs are fortunate – they can close their doors and still have a game of football, at least short-term,” he added.

“We are looking for funding from wherever it can come. The Premier League has had too much money and we haven’t had enough, it is dreadful.

“I believe the Premier League should move more money about – players like Jamie Vardy and Stuart Pearce came to football late and they were playing grassroots football – without that we wouldn’t see these late starters – they both went on to play for England.”

Another former England international, 53-cap goalkeeper David James, was born in Welwyn Garden City and would watch his local team growing up.

David James is working as an ambassador with Utilita to promote their Switch Before Pitch campaign.

James is an ambassador for Utilita’s ‘Switch Before Pitch’ campaign, which also highlighted an average reduction of 46 per-cent in income for grassroots clubs – with one in 10 losing between 90-100 per-cent.

“It is not just about people who want to play football,” James told the PA news agency.

“They have a clubhouse, a 4G area they rent out, there is a bar set up in there, they hold the annual local fireworks display as well.

“It goes beyond football what grassroots football clubs can offer the community. The social interaction is a key part of grassroots.

“There is a physical benefit but also a mental health benefit from being involved in grassroots football, particularly at a community level.”

:: For more information on how grassroots clubs can save and raise money, and to win football-related prizes for your club, visit www.utilita.co.uk/switch-before-pitch from 7am on Monday 28th September 2020.

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