The Right Hon Oliver Dowden CBE MP
Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
100 Parliament Street
London SW1A 2BQ
January 22 2021
Dear Mr Dowden
I write to you as the Supporter Liaison Officer for the Torquay United Supporters’ Trust not only on behalf of Torquay United but also for all supporters of the 66 National League’s football clubs.
The reason for writing is to register our surprise and concern following the announcement this
week that further financial support for the National League for the 2020-21 season is to be in the form of loans and not grants.
Covid-19 has clearly affected all walks of life and sadly far too many have lost the battle but now there is the hope of better times ahead that vaccination can bring. In this context it seems strange that the previous form of funding cannot be continued. Not only is the survival of National League football at stake but also the mental health wellbeing that is derived from fans following the fortunes of their community club.
The loss of revenue from paying spectators not allowed to watch and from secondary income through hospitality bars and food outlets has brought many clubs to their knees with the very real threat of going out of business – players are on contracts and bills still have to be paid.
This week’s news has been the final straw for too many and today, as a result of the DCMS decision, the National Leagues North and South, that’s 43 clubs and their communities, have decided to suspend their seasons for two weeks.
The decision to offer loans, rather than grants, is very much at odds with the criteria for the £10m grant given to the National League to allow the season to start in October 2020.
It is clear that no club last year would have consented to start the season had they realised that once the National Lottery funding ended in December 2020, any further funds would have been in the form of loans.
The importance of the role and influence clubs play in their local communities cannot be underestimated and this must have been a factor in the decision making last year to financially support football’s re-start, albeit without spectators.
As clubs and communities have, in the majority, adhered to the rules and restrictions of Tiers and Lockdowns, it is of vital importance that these National League clubs be allowed to continue playing – but they cannot do so if there will be ‘X’ amount of loans to repay when there is no income. Players’ livelihoods, their families, local communities all rely on football being played.
According to an FA survey published in July 2019 Grassroots football is worth in excess of £10b per year to the UK economy, creating more than £400m in contributions to the Exchequer and more than £40m in health benefits.
Were the whole National League system grind to a halt, the cost of furloughing players and staff would be around £14m which would be £3m more than the £11m available – in grants – to allow the season to continue.
So, on behalf of Torquay United, club and supporters, and all National League clubs, the Torquay United Supporters’ Trust asks that you reconsider your decision.
TUST Supporter Liaison Officer