Asa Povey jumps with Matt Jones in the Binfield vs Virginia Water FA Vase fixture
Asa Povey jumps with Matt Jones in the Binfield vs Virginia Water FA Vase fixture. Photo: Neil Graham / ngsportsphotography.com

Refurbs, sponsors and Covid: Berkshire chairmen on non-leagues future

Non league football has been on hiatus for months, and with no confirmation of when it is likely to return, we spoke to eight of the county's chairmen to find out what they'd been up to
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Asa Povey jumps with Matt Jones in the Binfield vs Virginia Water FA Vase fixture
Asa Povey jumps with Matt Jones in the Binfield vs Virginia Water FA Vase fixture. Photo: Neil Graham / ngsportsphotography.com

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From what’s been going on behind the scenes to when non league football might just start up up again, Football in Berkshire has spoken to the key people across the county running clubs from the Vanarama National League at step 2, to the Thames Valley Premier League at step 7.

On our panel we have representatives from Binfield, Berks County, Chalvey Sports, Thatcham Town, Woodley United, Hungerford Town, Wokingham & Emmbrook and Bracknell Town to discuss a number of issues around the Coronavirus and what the future of football might look like from this point on.

Just before your settle down to read all the views, we wanted to highlight that we spoke with a number of the fine people who are part of this panel on our Berkshire Football Stories podcast – you can find them all here.

What’s been happening behind the scenes at your club? How have you been using the extended off-season?

Bob Bacon (Binfield): Maintenance around the facility. Repaired three pitches, resurfaced car park, repaired a roof, painted inside and out, deep cleaning changing rooms and showers, planning for new capital expenditure with Parish Council and Borough Council.

Steve Kay (Berks County): I work in Health and Safety so have been incredibly busy with Covid-19 planning. At the Club, a lot of volunteers have been working their way through what we do about things like Trophy Day, finances, facilities and socially distanced training. Some squads have been running sessions as per FA guidance.

Berks County's Steve Kay accepts his award for Volunteer of the Season. Photo: Neil Graham
Berks County’s Steve Kay accepts his award for Volunteer of the Season in 2018. Photo: Neil Graham

Scott Young (Chalvey): Working hard getting ready for the new season. Applied and was awarded Charter Standard status by the FA which was great for the club. Obviously working to provide what the clubs needs with regards to kit and equipment. The hardest job has been sponsorship, especially after losing our main sponsor during the close season due to the pandemic. Sponsorship is the main priority now so that we can sustain and continue to compete at the level that we currently play at. We have managed to keep hold of the majority of players and all of the management team remain in place which is great news. Other than that we are more organised right now than we’ve been for a long time so just waiting on a start date now. Oh and we are looking for a goalkeeping coach to work with our young keepers so if you know anybody then please send them our way!

Dave Melin (Thatcham): Quite a bit to be honest. We have recently launched some additional incentives to bring more funds into the club (Kingfisher Lottery), are about to launch a 1st Team Sponsors raffle and some key maintenance and groundworks at the Stacatruc Stadium. we have used the additional few months to get the main pitch in pristine condition and I have to say – it is looking amazing. We are about to kick off a recruitment drive to get more people involved at the club behind the scenes and on matchdays and then there was the small matter of appointing a new first team manager.

Mark Rozzier (Woodley): Planning for the next five years is being undertaken. Recruiting a Royals team manager. Undertaking of virtual training by youth teams.

Patrick Chambers (Hungerford): We have had large parties of volunteers carrying out essential works. The pitch has undergone a lot of preparation too .

Steve Williams (Wokingham): Staying in contact and motivating team managers with various info. Refurbishing the ESSC Clubhouse and changing rooms, pitches and surrounding grounds at Lowther Road. Applying for grants. Just recently started training with some teams under strict FA COVID-19 Guidelines (risk assessments etc).

Kayne Steinborn-Busse (Bracknell): We have used this time of shut down to focus on several new facilities project’s to help grow our Youth Academy. My Chief Executive Stephen Shortland covered most of this in his recent Football in Berkshire interview.

Poll results: Should the 2019/20 season have been…

With regards to starting the next season, when do you think 2020/21 might begin?

Bob Bacon: October 2020

Steve Kay: Not sure. It’s an outdoor sport which is to our advantage but someone will need to take a risk as it’s a contact sport.

Scott Young: September.

Dave Melin: From all indications – we are expecting everything to kick off around the 12th September. Due to that being around 4 – 5 weeks late – we would expect the first couple of months would see lots of Saturday/Tuesday fixtures which will be hard on the playing squads however – should see a home game each week which could be excellent and much needed for the clubs.

Mark Rozzier: Competitive football to start late October at the earliest. Plenty of time needed for pre-season training due to time players have been away from sport.

Mark Rozzier. Photo: Neil Graham / ngsportsphotography.com

Patrick Chambers: September.

Steve Williams: Hopefully September, but realistically October/November – will depend if we get a second spike.

Kayne Steinborn-Busse: We are ready to go when given the green light however I think the powers that be will be watching how effective the re opening of the leisure sector is before decisions are made! My best guess right now is late September early October.

Do you think your club could start the season without supporters at the ground? If supporters are able to attend, what Covid 19 measures might you introduce – if they are required or not?

Bob Bacon: No. Have to produce another risk assessment around players/staff, spectators, equipment, facilities. Provide sanitising stations inside and outside of buildings

Steve Kay: Supporters shouldn’t be a problem at this level since 2m can be maintained and the risk is reduced as it’s outdoors. Sanitiser on entry to the grounds should be required and I would allow take away food from hatches. Clubhouses could maintain 2m for a beer but other hygiene measures would need to be increased.

Scott Young: Even though we only get 50 supporters on average, We couldn’t survive without supporters. The revenue generated pays for our matchday costs and playing behind close doors would see us struggle financially.

Listen to Scott Young on the Berkshire Football Stories podcast:

Dave Melin: No. Non-league football is all about the supporters. Playing at Step 4 also brings financial challenges which require the income from gate receipts and bar takings, etc. We are working to make the club COVID safe and reviewing the government and FA guidelines closely. We should be fine with spacing out spectators around the pitchside and reducing the number of seats available but again – we will review and amend as required when we get to later in the summer.

Mark Rozzier: Cannot start without spectators. Measures will include cashless, one-way system around the ground, non-touching of football.

Patrick Chambers: No. Rumour is that there will be crowd caps of circa 30% of capacity. We will abide by FA and National league guidelines that are being formalised.

Steve Williams: Yes we could of course, not great but no problem. COVID measures for attendance would include social distances whilst spectating, 2m shown via cones, sectioning off or not using the stand, PPE masks and social distancing in the clubhouse, asking spectators to drink outside, maybe asking players to arrive ready to play and not using changing rooms, same for officials. Additional use of disinfecting wipes and antibacterial gel around the clubhouse, minimal use of toilet facilities – maybe 1 person at a time.

Kayne Steinborn-Busse: We are here for the fans so it would be sad to not have them part of the new season however if that was a decision that was made above us we could more than cope financially without gate or bar revenue.

Poll results: How do you think the 2019/20 should have finished?

Presuming that testing for players outside the National League playoffs is not financially viable, has there been any indication from the authorities about how the grassroots game might get going again?

Bob Bacon: Only indications, nothing concrete. Too much left for individual interpretation.

Binfield chairman Bob Bacon accepts his Football in Bracknell Award for Best Ground. Photo: Neil Graham
Binfield chairman Bob Bacon accepts his Football in Bracknell Award for Best Ground. Photo: Neil Graham

Steve Kay: No not yet but it may resume depending on infection rates in different League areas. The government is taking a few risks to get things back to normal and resuming may be ok as long as contacts can be traced and isolated should someone test positive.

Scott Young: Not really. It’s pretty poor in my opinion

Dave Melin: In a word – No! I believe the authorities are dealing with the immediacy of finishing the current season for those leagues that are able to do so. Everything about a restart for Non-League football will be governed by the Covid-19 Status and meeting the governments 5 step plan and praying there is not a second wave of infections.

Mark Rozzier: Only that clubs will be required to undertake club risk assessments and publish on their websites.

Patrick Chambers: Not as yet, but I am aware of extensive ongoing discussions and I am kept informed.

Steve Williams: We are following FA and Berks & Berks FA Guidelines weekly, but no recent changes. The FA can only follow the government changes within relaxation and how that will unfold.

Bracknell Town chairman Kayne Steinborn-Busse. Photo: Neil Graham.
Bracknell Town chairman Kayne Steinborn-Busse. Photo: Neil Graham.

Kayne Steinborn-Busse: Personally I have not seen anything regarding testing our players, we are following guidelines to ensure we don’t put our players or staff at risk.

Poll results: What cups should be played next season?

Do you think there will be any lasting effects on the non league game, either positive or negative?

Bob Bacon: Positive. Will hope to see increase in crowds and a general interest in the non league game

Steve Kay: Only negative – financially if summer fundraisers have been cancelled and a recession affects the ability of sponsors and players to pay.

Scott Young: I think a negative cost will be financial especially if you don’t have your own ground. Businesses will be reluctant (as we have seen) to help due to the crisis. With income down and with staff being laid off, their hard-earned money will be needed for them to survive.

Dave Melin: Definitely lasting effects. This situation will undoubtably force the closure or reduction of some clubs ability to compete at current levels. I also feel that due to the harsh financial situation businesses are in – there will be a reduction in sponsorship revenues with very few exceptions. On a positive note – it will force some clubs to look to work more within their means.

Mark Rozzier: Possibly loss of interest by players and older spectators due to shielding. Positive is players have had a chance to rest injuries. There is an opportunity to ask the purpose of non-league football and is it fit for 2020 and 2030s.

Hungerford Town chairman Patrick Chambers with Andrew Brooks, Managing Director of Bewley Homes. Photo: Rockstone Communications on behalf of Bewley Homes
Hungerford Town chairman Patrick Chambers (left) with Andrew Brooks, Managing Director of Bewley Homes. Photo: Rockstone Communications on behalf of Bewley Homes

Patrick Chambers: There will be a lot less sponsorship money around for certain. I believe most clubs will be cutting budgets significantly.

Steve Williams: Everyone is talking about the ‘new norm’ after COVID-19 and there will definitely be some effects on football short, medium and long term, whether from a club perspective or personal. Some may be positive (hygiene) some negative.

Kayne Steinborn-Busse: I think it will hurt some clubs more than others however the reality is down at our level if you have football being played you should not be attracting any expensive costs. That said the normal off season fundraising tournaments etc that many grass roots depend on have now not happened so that will affect some for sure.

Poll results: Would you be in favour of a shorter 2020/21 league season to avoid it running over? Maybe only play teams once or something like that?

If you could introduce one thing to non league football off the back of the extended break, what would it be?

Bob Bacon: More regionalised games to reduce costs.

Steve Kay: Continue with Zoom League meetings as it’s more flexible and so attendance will be better!

Scott Young: I’d like to introduce some common sense into the running of football. Not only are the rules on the pitch different throughout the levels of the game but now they are different off the pitch as well. I think the FA has missed the point about grassroots football and their financial plight. Clubs last season at different levels of the NLS budgeted to potentially push for promotion but by null and voiding the season they’ve hurt many clubs by just stopping. This is why there will be fewer teams at certain levels next season and I’d imagine some nervousness in the future about making plans to push on. Where’s the help?

Dave Melin.

Dave Melin: An annual fully costed financial stimulus package to flow down from the Premier League to grass roots football.

Mark Rozzier: Reduce the size of leagues thus reducing midweek games. This in turn will allow more time to coach players and improve their ability and overall standard of matches.

Patrick Chambers: I would like to see technology introduced at Steps 1 & 2 so that fans can purchase tickets online, as I am certain we will have to identify everyone attending for the foreseeable future. This would make crowd caps easy to manage. Also direction on going cashless in the interest of hygiene. We have moved towards contactless already. Lastly the professional game needs to do more to support all grass roots football.

Steve Williams: That we try to get back to ‘normal’ as soon as is feasibly possible within the guidelines and that ‘everyone’ follows the post COVID rules.

Kayne Steinborn-Busse: I am not sure if this is the right answer however if one thing could change in non league football is more locals follow it and us rather than travelling to the bigger more expensive league football.

Anything you’d like to add?

Scott Young: Football is the best sport there is, let’s look after it by having a stronger governing body that looks after the interest of all levels of the game and not just the elite level!

Chalvey Sports chairman Scott Young.

Dave Melin: Obviously this pandemic is a situation we never want to see again. To avoid confusion, legal battles and any lingering doubt – All non-league football should have a documented and consistent manner of deciding leagues moving forwards be that PPG or any other method and have a minimum % of matches to be played where that would come into force. The inconsistent and farcical way in which decisions have been made and communicated has tarnished the reputation and authority of footballs governing bodies.

Mark Rozzier: With the 1st August looming, some clarity as to possible start dates even if to say no league games until mm/yy to help clubs with planning.

Patrick Chambers: I hope the non league community come together to help and advise each other in these testing times.

Steve Williams: The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic effect on everyone all over the world, everyone has been affected in one way or another, football is no different to any other sport and we have to accept this and move on regardless, and hopefully make the new season as good as any other being mindful of the post-COVID-19 changes and guidelines to football and people in general.

What do you think? 

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