© The Fan Experience Company 2020
EFL: Clubs feel 'victimised' by government says chairman Rick Parry
English Football League chairman Rick Parry says clubs feel “victimised” by the Government over a lack of financial support and a ban on fans in grounds.
In a letter to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden seen by BBC Sport, Parry restates fears that clubs could fold due to Covid-19 restrictions unless they are given more economic help.
The Government feels the Premier League should come to the aid of EFL clubs.
But Parry says EFL clubs need at least £400m from their owners to survive.
“For some reason, football is being regarded as a peculiarly undeserving case and, as a result, many of our clubs have now reached the conclusion that we are at best being ignored by a government that doesn’t understand our national sport and at worst being victimised by it,” Parry wrote.
“Ultimately, the football public will judge the performance of this Conservative government on how many football clubs remain in business once the pandemic finally subsides.
“Certainly, those communities that are inextricably linked to their local team will never forgive it if their beloved football clubs are driven into extinction.”
The EFL and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) have been in discussions for some time about ways to help clubs struggling through the pandemic.
Having had some pilot matches with socially-distanced crowds in September, clubs had expected to start welcoming back supporters at the start of this month.
But the Government stopped any plans to bring fans back after a rise in coronavirus cases – a situation with an unknown future.
Parry was critical of how theatres and indoor arts venues can open and have had a £1.5bn aid package, but stadiums are unable to accommodate paying spectators.
“While football grounds in Rochdale, Grimsby, Mansfield and Carlisle might seem an awful long way from Glyndebourne or the Royal Ballet, they are nonetheless equally import parts of our nation’s heritage,” Parry said.
“It must have dawned on you that it is deeply unfair that cultural institutions like these are receiving government hand-outs while also being able to generate revenues by admitting the paying public. Yet at the same time, football is told to support itself and its clubs have to play behind closed doors.
“I am sure you can understand how this disparity in approach must look to football fans in constituencies across the country.”
Parry added that the government must work with clubs to formulate a plan to keep sides going in the interim period.
“In our view, this must involve getting fans safely back into stadia as quickly as possible and, in the meantime, providing relief on PAYE payments to HMRC so that clubs do not continue to haemorrhage cash while playing behind closed doors,” he said.
“In any event, clubs will soon begin defaulting on these payments and the government would be better off managing this situation rather than having it land on its toes.”
‘Professional football can support itself’
The Government said it understood the decision not to reopen stadia on 1 October was frustrating for sports fans, but with rising infections and restrictions it was not possible to take further easements which would have meant several tens of thousands of fans going to sports events every weekend.
It said it continued to work at pace to find solutions that would allow crowds safely back into stadia as soon as possible.
“We have been clear that professional football has the means to support itself and have been assured by the football authorities that they have no intention to let any club go bust due to the pandemic,” a DCMS spokesperson said.
“We have secured a package for the National League and our focus is now on supporting those sports and sectors that need it most and can not look after themselves. We urge the EFL and Premier League to finalise a deal as soon as possible.”