Lockdown has been a tough struggle for everyone, and so it got me thinking:
How have non-league clubs been dealing with this unusual situation that we currently live in?
I decided to investigate by talking to a non-league club.
Framlingham Town FC’s First Team currently compete in the Thurlow Nunn Division 1 North. I spoke to their current chairman (and photographer, I must add!) Dean Warner to discuss how the club has been coping and how they feel about the upcoming season.
Thankfully, in this case, the club has not experienced too much difficulty during these unprecedented times. Dean states that the “premature ending of the season has thankfully had little effect on finances and has been as if we have been an extended close season”, adding that the their application of a grant to the Pitch Preparation Fund in May was recently accepted. This has allowed them “to prepare our pitches ready for the new season to begin. This work has been ongoing over many weeks!”
I asked Dean how he and the club felt when the decision to null and void the non-season was made. After having a struggling start to their season after relegation in 2018/19, the ‘Castlemen’ were able to pick up a bit of form and climb up the table. “We were fairly sure our league position would not be affected in any scenario the league decided. But as a club we decided that the fairest way for the league was to null and void with relegation and promotion. As you know, the decision was to null and void without any relegation or promotion. Obviously, the decision had both positive and negative effects on many clubs but was the fairest option in my opinion.”
”Training started in July when the government allowed for small groups with social distancing in place to train within the Government/FA guidelines. With risk assessments completed and PPE in place, players were eager to get back. Our training normally starts around the middle to the end of June so there was no major impact starting in July!”
Preparations still need to be put into place, though, for when pre-season and the season itself starts up once again. “We were aware that when the situation changed it may well lead to a quick turnaround, so we had done some work towards being ready.
However, the next few weeks will be busy getting the necessary signage, one-way systems, sanitiser stations, etc. in place ready for our actual start. Again, the FA have offered small grants for Coronavirus preparations which will be a God send to most grassroots clubs.”
With the new season announced, and preparations being put into place, the ‘Castlemen’ are looking forward to returning to a schedule, even if it slightly different under the ‘new normal’ that we currently find ourselves in. “I think there is an eagerness and excitement from all our players, our managers, and including our Youth Section to get football started again! The First Team will certainly be wanting to improve on last season’s position. Of course, we aspire to regain promotion back into the Thurlow Nunn Premier League, but it is far too early to be making predictions.
The success of any grassroots club is built on the hard endeavours of its committee, volunteers, and supporters and we will hopefully continue to build a strong successful and stable club for the future!”
A 3G pitch and facilities continue to be an aim for their future, with Dean stating “we as a club are continuing to work hard in our ambition to secure suitable funding for Framlingham Town FC own its own 3G pitch and facilities. This is an ongoing project and will continue to be so until success is achieved.”
It is good to see that the FA have been able to provide support through their Pitch Protection Fund, and thankfully it is a non-league club who have not suffered badly because of Covid-19. This, of course, is a club who benefited just under a year ago by Ed Sheeran sporting the Framlingham Town home shirt at the end of one of his concerts at Chantry Park. The club were able to sell ‘Sheeran 6’ shirts after this happened, with people enquiring from around the world to get their hands on the unique piece of memorabilia, with Dean telling me around one-hundred had been sold. Just imagine the difference had the concert been set for this year, those shirts nor the coverage would have happened!
I would like to wish the club – and every other non-league club that has either suffered or coped as well as they could have done throughout this unprecedented period - every success for the season ahead. Hopefully we will catch up with them on my new podcast. which starts this Sunday morning 10:15