FootballLocal sportNorthern League

New variant set to cause “devastating” impact on Non-League Football

Non-League football clubs are fearing the Omicron variant could force leagues to cancel their remaining fixtures again. 

The Omicron variant is said to be a stronger strain than the delta variant and spreading at rapid speeds. 

The Government have already had to re-introduce face coverings and should further restrictions or a potential third lockdown be implemented; the repercussions on lower league football could be catastrophic. 

Ross Gregory, who is a committee member for Whickham said: “When Covid first broke it had a major impact on non-league teams; with leagues being brought to a halt.

“There is a concern that if the virus spreads and becomes more prevalent, leagues may need to take action and seasons may need to be postponed which is a concern. 

“When we eventually got back to playing again, we were restricted in terms of the amount of people allowed in the ground. We had to make sure certain numbers were adhered to in terms of attendances in the ground and the two-metre ruling was complied with. 

“Getting back underway was a logistical struggle for the club and all clubs; making sure the legislation was right and practises were adhered to, it was tricky.“

Non-league football clubs have found it difficult during the pandemic, with a majority of teams relying on weekly match day revenue as their main source of income. Reduced attendances are due to restrictions put in place by the Government and many clubs’ revenue has suffered as a result. 

There is an argument the money available within football’s top tiers should be spread further down the football chain to help the smaller clubs. 

Ross added: “It’s difficult, this has never happened before. Hopefully, it’s a one-off that no one could prepare for. Obviously higher up the pyramid you go the more money there is available, but equally the higher up you go the more costs they have. 

“Costs at our level are relatively low, our income was hit through the lack of games, sponsorship deals and sponsorship obligations to fulfil. Those implications and matchday revenues were affected.“

Whickham won the FA Vase in 1981, their biggest achievement to date, and one the club hope they can capture again in the future. Ben Robinson is a member of Whickham’s media team and is hoping the Government will do more to support the lower league teams should the Omicron variant cause leagues to be suspended. 

Ben said: “I know during the pandemic some support was offered to Northern League clubs. I still believe that during this season the clubs that are struggling to even play on a matchday should receive some sort of funding. 

“Especially going into the wintertime with bad weather, teams may need the financial cover without match days being played which can have a devastating effect.“

As local football teams rely heavily on income from supporters on matchdays as well as sponsorship deals. The potential lockdown will add enormous pressure, where many clubs will struggle to re-open their doors again. 

Ben added: “I think crowd numbers were certainly affected. However, the club’s volunteers have pulled together to assist in keeping the club well prepared, which means the club haven’t suffered as much as many unfortunate teams in non-league football. Many clubs out there have struggled without that background support system.“

Whickham will be hoping there are no disturbances to their season, following four wins in their last five matches.