News   |    December 19th, 2021

LOCKDOWN LOSERS

The Christmas and New Year period usually sees a sharp increase in attendances at football matches at all levels of the game. The large number of games played can often define whether teams can go on a winning run to force their way into a promotion race or equally go on a losing run to fall into relegation trouble.

I think it is becoming increasingly clear that the football fixture programme will be severely disrupted over the holiday period. The spread of the Omicron variant of Covid in London and the Southeast in particular is so severe that I fully expect to see an announcement in the coming days that immediately after Christmas there will be a further lockdown to contain the virus spread. In the past week I have never heard of so many people in my circle falling victim to the virus. It is clearly far more contagious than anything that has gone before. Two weeks ago,in London you simply couldn’t get a table at most restaurants, but the level of cancellations mean it is now easy to get into any restaurant. You have to feel for those businesses in the hospitality sector who saw Christmas and the New Year as something of a salvation, but many now face financial hardship and possible closure. Many of these are sound businesses in normal times and the Government must help them to survive. Of course, corporate hospitality is important to the finances of all football clubs,and they will be hit hard once again with any loss of fixtures.

In the Premier League days at Charlton Athletic FC, match day and non-match day hospitality was a £3.2m annual turnover business and clubs can’t afford to lose this type of business. As clubs start to announce their financial results the full impact of Covid will be seen and many clubs will only be surviving courtesy of their owners, but I fear some will not. Millwall FC has just announced a £13.1m operating loss. Turnover was down by £4m with so many matches played behind closed doors. Like many clubs Millwall will need to find £2.5m for each of the next three seasons to pay back a loan from the EFL which is secured against future Premier League solidarity payments. Millwall has a very supportive owner in John Berylson but I fear other clubs will find the future very challenging. The pressure from fans Is always to spend more and more money to achieve success and criticism follows if the cheque book is kept firmly shut. The reality is that most clubs are now fighting daily to survive.  The priority in these difficult times for any owner is to keep a club in business and not take decisions that could put its very existence at risk. Look at what is happening to a club with a great history like Derby County FC. Football finances make no sense at the best of times but with more lockdowns, falling revenues and future income being mortgaged keeping a club afloat has never been more difficult. 

I really hope I am wrong and that there will no lockdown and widespread cancellation of games immediately after Christmas, but the omens are not good.

(Picture: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Peter Varney - Chairman, Integral Sports Management

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