It is oft-repeated within football that smaller clubs may mean more to their supporters than larger ones do. Whether this is an accurate summation of the relationship between clubs of different sizes with their supporter bases is debatable, but there can be little question that the work done by supporters of Blue Square South club Welling United over the last few weeks must count as one of the more extraordinary acts of benevolence by a set of supporters in recent times. Welling, as so many other clubs of their size have over the last few years, fell into the trap of not paying their tax bill, to the point that they were facing a winding up order this month. They were deducted five points by the Football Conference’s Financial Reporting Initiative earlier this season and, some might say inevitably, also faced a winding up order presented by HMRC.
The club’s outstanding tax bill was in the region of £90,000 and £30,000 was paid off by the club itself. After a plea for loans from supporters, however, the remaining amount owed under the winding up order has now been paid and the immediate threat to the club’s future has been staved off. This is a remarkable effort on the part of the supporters of the club. It is perhaps worth reflecting upon the fact that a club whose average home attendance of 579 can raise £64,900 in just a few weeks – the money was put in by the supporters in the form of loans ranging from £500 to £3,000 – as this is an exceptional achievement and shows, as if it needed to be shown, the depth of the bond between the club and its supporters.
Of course, these loans don’t mean that the club is free of debt – rather that the money is owed to supporters rather than to HMRC. However, the truth of the matter is that if the survival of the club is at stake, it is probably better to have supporters as creditors than the taxman, especially considering the voraciousness of that particular organisation of late. It has also made the potential sale of the club a more attractive option for anyone that does wish to step in to buy it, although there are obvious issues relating to their cashflow and ability to run with a manageable amount of debt in the future which may impede such negotiations. The club is not out of hot water yet, but a period of something more closely resembling stability should at least allow them to get back upn their feet. One particularly pertinent statement from the club’s solicitor, Dan Chapman of Leathes Prior Solicitors, however, makes mention of an issue (in reference to the winding up hearing) that could prove to be particularly costly to clubs over the next couple of weeks, though:
It was always a close call as to whether the adjournment would be granted, and whilst ideally we wanted an adjournment that gave us until early in 2011 (so the Club could take advantage of the receipts of some of the forthcoming fixtures) we were nonetheless pleased to be given at least 14 days.
Gate receipts and other match day revenues are critical to all non-league clubs, but we are headed towards a time of year that is particularly important to smaller clubs. The extent to which the Christmas and New Year period is essential to the financial well-being of smaller clubs cannot be understated. Most senior leagues below the Football League do attempt to make the most of the holiday period by scheduling local derby matches for Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, which makes it essential that these matches take place. The extra revenue from these matches (and the difference between playing a match on, say, Boxing Day and a Tuesday night in March or April should be obvious) can be highly significant of these size, in terms not only of gate receipts but also of bar takings at clubs that may still rely heavily on the social clubs attached to them. In addition to this, corporate hospitality and sponsorship money is likely to be lower for a rescheduled match than for what may be looked upon as a “prestige” bank holiday fixture.
There can, therefore, be little question that smaller clubs should be acting as quickly as possible to do what they can in order to ensure that matches scheduled for Boxing Day and the New Year go ahead and, considering the potential financial benefits for them doing so, it seems unlikely that too many of them will have forgotten about it. The weather this winter, however, has already been extremely inclement and there is a good chance that there will be more snow and lower temperatures yet to come over the next few days. It is, therefore, probably worth our while to wish everybody charged with the task of trying to get matches on over the holiday period the best of luck and it is also worth bearing in mind that if your club sends out an SOS to help clear a pitch to try and get a match on over this period, they are doing so because the financial rewards for doing so are too great to disregard.
In amongst the complaining of armchair supporters that their live television matches will not be shown on the television, it is probably worth reminding ourselves that football is not all about trinkets and baubles. For a good number of our smaller clubs, a hand to mouth existence is the best that can be expected from a financial perspective, and every home Saturday fixture that falls by the wayside is likely to be valuable money pouring down the plug hole when it comes to cashflow projections for the whole of a given season. It goes without saying that, in an ideal world, clubs of any size shouldn’t be dependent on the revenue of one home match to secure their financial future but, out there in the real world at the bottom of football’s food chain, it is not quite as easy as that. Welling United will be just one of a large number of clubs keeping their fingers crossed that the weather shows a little mercy over the Christmas and New Year break.
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