Former England goalkeeper David James has joined a campaign to save grassroots football in England, amid fears that one in 10 clubs may go bust amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Speaking exclusively to TEAMtalk, the former Liverpool and Portsmouth keeper reflected on his formative days playing for his local teams his hometown of Welwyn Garden City and insisted the fight to keep clubs alive was not just an issue that should concern supporters of Premier League clubs.
“At Premier League level, they are talking about clubs losing tens of millions of pounds, but at grassroots level that number is reduced to hundreds and thousands pounds,” he told us, as he promoted the Utilita Switch Before Pitch campaign.
“Both situations are potentially devastating for the future of clubs because at grassroots level, it is not just the attendance at the game every two weeks that is being affected.
“The bar in the clubhouse is also empty and there is no revenue coming in from events that would have been staged at that venue.
“They don’t have sponsorship for the pitch any more, the 3G pitches attached to clubs are not being used and more revenue is lost there.
“This is not just about kids getting a chance to play football and some of the teams they play for possibly disappearing. This is about keeping alive grassroots teams that are such an important part of their communities.
“If they disappear, it affects so many people and if we are set to lose one in 10 grassroots clubs, we are not just losing the next Harry Kane or Raheem Sterling but also the place where my 54-year-old mate Tom goes and plays on a Saturday. This threat could impact so many more people than you realise.”
Lower league clubs are pushing the UK government to allow them to welcome small numbers of spectators backs to stadiums, with James among those who has attended a game where fans were in the stands in recent days.
James proposes tax relief
“I went to watch Welwyn Garden City in the FA Cup and there were a few hundred people there and it felt safe,” he added. “Fans are allowed to attend if you go far enough down the league ladder at this stage, but clearly clubs a little high up the chain will struggle if spectators are not allowed to attend for an extended period.
“Of course, health has to come first and we don’t know what is going to happen with this virus and a potential second wave, bit there are big concerns for the game.
“I’m not sure we can ask the government to give money to football clubs at whatever level. We cannot expect bailouts for every part of the business community, but we could maybe look at not taking VAT or taxes from grassroots clubs for a period of time to try and get them through this period and preserve their survival.
“A 12-month period where tax and VAT was relaxed for grassroots clubs could keep a lot of them afloat.”
David James is supporting the Utilita Switch Before Pitch campaign. Check it out here – https://utilita.co.uk/campaigns/switch-before-pitch