While professional sports have continued on their way during the pandemic, non-league clubs like North Shields Football Club, have had to endure two seperate stoppages in play thanks to Coronavirus.
Edward Painter, North Shields FC and Dagenham and Redbridge media volunteer, discusses his experiences and worries about the future of non-league football after the pandemic.
The 2020/21 season marks the second season where Covid-19 has affected non-league football, after their 2019/20 campaign was put to a stop during the early months of the pandemic.
This season, the Robins finished fourth in the Northern League Division One table, one point (26pts) behind third-placed Consett (27pts) and, second-placed, Stockton Town (27pts) when the season came to a halt in December 2020 – after only 11 games for North Shields.
Painter also said:
“Nobody can tell me, we wouldn’t have secured promotion if the season had gone on for, even, another month with the form we were in.
“It’s been tough financially, it’s been tough on the boys on the pitch, it’s been tough on the committee because, aside from a few younger faces, we’re looking at retirees, parents and people with life-long health conditions – who are dealing with enough stress in their lives.
“Half of the committee actually spent about a year shielding because they weren’t allowed outside.
“So having to maintain a football club, in the wake of that was tough enough so we can only hope with – touch wood and all – there’s seemingly light at the end of the tunnel.
“That this coming season, whenever that does get started, we’ll actually be able to finish it. We’ll be able to bring people through the doors and we’ll be able to make some money and try to rake back some of the losses that everyone has made.”
After the dreadful year that was 2020, where we spent more time confined to four walls than being outside, fans were briefly allowed to attend non-league games.
However, that soon changed and in-person attendance was swapped for playing games behind closed doors. This left local clubs without a stream of steady revenue, and it could have implications on supporters and the team’s mental health.
“Financially we need the fans back, from a sporting perspective we need the fans back and from a mental health standpoint, everybody needs to be back in those grounds and supporting their teams.
“For the majority of these supporting fans, if you don’t have something to do on the weekend, when you’re getting battered with bad news, after bad news, after bad news, then what is there to look forward to?
“I know these national league clubs have been playing behind closed doors, and I have been doing some voluntary work for Dagenham in recent months. Whilst the players do enjoy it, the managers do enjoy it, after every single management interview, after every single player interview the same message pops up again, again and again: they cannot wait to have people back through the gates and cheering them on during these games.”
As the Government relaxes national restrictions and eases the country out of lockdowns, it looks promising that when the non-league season goes ahead fans will be allowed in to watch their beloved sport.
However, if they don’t return, Painter is concerned about the risk it will pose on non-league clubs, he said:
“For the sake of the argument, let’s say in the coming season, 2021/22, clubs at the northern league level aren’t allowed fans again. I think half of those teams would fold, without trying to over-dramatise and scaremonger or anything.”