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Will our non league clubs survive coronavirus pandemic?

The questions are plentiful but the answers, unfortunately, are in short supply.

These are unprecedented and uncertain times for the whole of the non-league football community as the coronavirus pandemic’s grip tightens.

We know that the 2019/20 season is almost certainly over following an Isthmian League statement released on Tuesday, but when is football going to return? And how much longer can clubs – with no income of note – last before going to the wall?

FOOTBALL: Mildenhall v NewmarketFA Vase action Casey Phillips clears for Mildenhall Picture by Mark Westley. (32224333)
FOOTBALL: Mildenhall v NewmarketFA Vase action Casey Phillips clears for Mildenhall Picture by Mark Westley. (32224333)

Newmarket Town were enjoying a positive season in the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division.

Michael Shinn’s men, whose last game before the shut down was a 10-2 win over Whitton United, sat fourth – only once since 1994 have the Jockeys finished in a higher position.

Chairman Kevin Grainger is confident that while it will be tough, the club can come out the other side.

“We have put together a sensible business model over the last couple of years and we are lucky to have the facilities that we do,” he said.

“We have been open seven days a week for a while now and it means we are not just reliant on our matchday income.

“It is going to hurt us of course, but we are very lucky in some ways. We own our pitch and the land and we have no players on contracts.

“It will be tough at times but I am confident we will come back. In fact, it might be tougher once we are back – it will take a while for clubs to get up and running in terms of sponsorship and things like that.”

Up in the BetVictor Isthmian League North Division, it is a
similar story for Soham Town Rangers.

After a rocky period, finances have somewhat steadied at Julius Martin Lane in recent years and vice-chairman Mark Goldsack is hopeful that will work in the Greens’ favour.

“Nobody likes the uncertainty, but during the last couple of years we have got to grips with our finances,” he said. “As it stands things will be tough, but we are not facing any desperate situation.

“I think like a lot of people we are all missing the social aspect and the sport itself, but obviously health comes first.

“Some finality would be good, especially because we have some plans for our pitch. If the season is done, we can get ahead with those.”

Back in the Thurlow Nunn League’s top flight, Mildenhall Town had picked up since Christmas after an inconsistent start to life back at Step 5.

Chairman Bill Flynn is optimistic the club will sail through these choppy waters, but he anticipates it taking some time before things return to normality.

“Like everyone else we are in the dark but hopefully it will not affect us too much,” said Flynn.

“Before the clubhouse was closed it was ticking along rather than flying like normal, and we have released all non essential staff.

“I can see clubs’ budgets coming under severe pressure when football does restart, including ours.

“A lot of small businesses help clubs and it is likely football will not be their number one priority when it all restarts.

“That applies to all clubs. I am sure it will all be back to normal in the end, but it might take a long while.”

Fellow Premier Division side Ely City also have no players on contract, which is a positive in this type of scenario.

They do, however, still have bills to pay and chairman Rob Button believes help from the Football Association would be invaluable.

“What affects us the most is the clubhouse. We cannot open it, which means we are not selling drinks and we cannot hold functions,” said Button.

“All the while we still have bills to pay, like for the alarm system and electricity.

“We do not have players on contract and as everyone knows our wage bill is not the biggest. Everyone connected with the club is rallying round at the moment.

“It is always a worry and nobody has the answers, but hopefully we can see it through and there will be help from above financially.”

Meanwhile, in the First Division North, Lakenheath have seen their promotion bid halted.

In just their second season at Step 6, second-placed Heath looked a sure bet to secure promotion to be a Premier Division side next term.

For the time being the club will survive, but chairman Kevin Fincham has warned that the long-term future is far from certain.

“It is a bit of job to say what is going to happen to us because a large part of our income – the clubhouse – is shut,” he said.

“We will be fine for a couple of months but after that, who knows? There are still bills to be paid, insurances and that sort of thing.

“We do not have the outlay of other clubs in terms of having contracts, but there is so much beyond the football that still needs financing.

“You cannot prepare for something like this – we will have to see how it goes.”