Southport FC have made an urgent plea for financial support from the Government, saying they will not be able to start the 2020/21 league season if help is not forthcoming.
The Sandgrounders are due to start their campaign at The Pure Stadium this Saturday, 3 October, with an FA Cup Second Round Qualifying tie against Morpeth Town.
They then face their initial home National League North league game, against Hereford, next Tuesday (6 October).
The club was initially told by the Government that a limited number of fans would be allowed to watch games from October 1 onwards.
But following the recent rise in Coronavirus cases, the Government has now reversed its decision to say that fans at ‘Elite Clubs’ in the National League North and upwards will no longer be allowed inside grounds to watch matches.
Spectators at grounds in leagues below Southport’s level will be allowed to host fans.
With a squad of players signed, staff at the ground and other running costs, it leaves Southport with difficult decisions to make before the first ball is kicked.
Southport FC Head of Operations James Tedford said: “If funding doesn’t come in then we have a big decision to make before Friday whether we even compete in the FA Cup and start incurring costs but everything we talk about is on the basis that either tonight or tomorrow there will be a decision hopefully positive that funding will come for us.”
He added: “The moment we start on Saturday the whistle goes and we kick that ball we have got seven or eight players who are due payment, and we simply cannot do that.
“The biggest thing we have to remember here is that there are legalities involved.
“Ian Kyle is the majority shareholder. If he runs this football club knowing that we are insolvent, he is potentially liable personally for that, and that is the biggest thing we have to look at.
“We have to protect the football club.
“We cannot go insolvent.
“But we are not the only club in the National League that knows that. Everyone is at them constantly.
“In fairness to them they are trying to get a package here.”
Over the past few days, many people have been calling for the Premier League to step in and help clubs in the lower leagues.
Watching clubs at the top level splashing huge sums on new players is difficult for lower league clubs to stomach when they are not sure how they are going to pay players.
Manchester City have just agreed a £64million fee for a new defender, Ruben Dias, while Manchester United are rumoured to be getting ready to bid around £100million for Jadon Sancho.
But James Tedford believes it is the Government which should step in and help.
He said: “Now people have been saying why is it up to the Government, why is it not up to the Premier League?
“Three months ago the Government told us via the FA that we could play here on the 1st of October with fans but eight or nine days before (the start of the season) they have reneged on that so for me it is up to them.
“We have got costs involved and we are now going to incur those costs if we play. It is up to them.
“Right now I don’t care where the money comes from. I would take it just so we could get football started here on Saturday.”
Staff and volunteers at the club have worked hard over the Summer to ensure that seating, the stadium, and facilities inside the ground are Covid safe and ready to welcome back fans.
James said: “The fans of the lifeblood of the club. They are the ones that we want to be in here to watch the game.
“We have seen it here with the Everton games we have held behind closed doors.
“There is no atmosphere. It is simply not the same.
“Even when I watch the games on Sky TV I have to watch it with the fans sound on even though it is as unrealistic as it is, you have to put it on and try to make it sound authentic.”
If Southport FC can secure Government funding, then the club will look forward to starting the new season and will offer fans the chance to watch matches through live streaming.
James said: “Now all our attention turns to live streaming. What we can do with that is fantastic. We have been trying it out today and it is a good stream.
“We can put the scores on, we can put the times on. It is the best that we can do.
“It is probably the best I have seen at other clubs that we have seen it at.
“We will give that live stream broadcast free to all members and all season ticket holders for every single game we play at home whether it is FA Cup, FA Trophy or league.
“We will give that as a thank you for all those supporters who didn’t ask for refunds that they can have this for free for the whole season.
“It is the best we can do. It is the next best thing to being in the ground, watching the game via live streaming.
“We hope people will support it.
“There are three options.
“We can start playing football with fans, which we now can’t do.
“We can play football without fans but we are still playing football.
“Or we don’t play at all.
“The middle ground is playing without fans.
“That is where we are.
“The last option is unthinkable – that this Saturday we don’t play football here and then by Tuesday that is it, the League doesn’t start.”
- Southport FC Head of Operations James Tedford will be on BBC Newsnight tonight from 10.45pm talking about some of the issues faced by clubs at the National League level during the current pandemic.