The highest-placed non-league football clubs in Barnsley believe they are in danger of going out of business due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Senior figures at Athersley Rec and Penistone Church have warned they may fold due to the loss of matchday income following the suspension of the Northern Counties East League which they both play in.
Pete Goodlad, Athersley’s co-founder and manager, said: “It could be the end of us. “I am just thinking all the time: ‘how are we going to get through this?’ and it is upsetting me. It could be the last nail in our coffin which would be devastating for me personally but also a lot of other volunteers at the club and the community of Athersley. Many other clubs are in the same boat and it will hurt us even more than the professional clubs.
"We have worked out, based on our averaging income from renting the pitches, ticket sales and our bar and cafe, that we would lose more than £15,000 if we don’t play in April or May. We have bills to pay in that time of £5,800. We have a bit of money in reserve, but not enough to pay for all of that because we’re not a rich club with a big benefactor. We have just raised money and worked hard for what we have got over a lot of years.
“Myself and Alan Richardson (co-founder) have put in our own money over the years but we’re retired now and we can’t keep doing that. Hopefully we can get something sorted with the FA or maybe get some help from the local community, but local businesses are all being hit by it as well.”
Penistone play in the Premier Division like Athersley. Their secretary Dave Hampshire said: “Financially, it will hit us very very hard and we could suffer tremendously. We could go under. We don’t have a moneyman covering all our losses, we rely on matchday income and profits from our bar which is usually open seven days a week and is a social centre for the community.
“We are already having to lay off part-time staff from the bar which is really hard but we have no other choice. There are more serious issues than a football club, like lives being at risk, and that definitely puts things in perspective. But the club is a big part of people’s lives and important for the community in Penistone.”
Church last week slipped out of the three promotion places in the NCEL Premier Division for the first time in several months. Last season, they finished second and missed out of the only promotion place. The club has money set aside for the improvements to the facilities needed to move into the level above, the Northern Premier League, but that is now likely to be spent on offsetting the losses from the suspension of the season.
Hampshire said: “It kills me to say it, but I think the league table will have to be declared null and void. I just don’t see any other option for leagues at our level. The virus is supposed to peak in June and, by then, cricket is supposed to start on a lot of club’s pitches, and a lot of players and staff have holidays booked. It would be devastating for us after the way we missed out last year and, this season, we are confident of finishing in the top three. We just have to remember there are more important things than a football team being promoted.”
Penistone and Worsbrough Bridge were both due to play in the Sheffield Senior Cup semi-finals this week but those games were also cancelled as sport ground to a halt across the country. Worsbrough are currently third-bottom in NCEL Division One. Chairman Mark Booth said: “Unless clubs at our level get some financial help from the FA or the leagues then I think you will start to see quite a few clubs disappear. For us, we have been around for 97 years and I can’t see the club not being here after this season.
“Whether it will be in a slightly different form because we have to restructure or restart, that remains to be seen. We are in for an extremely hard time and it is very far from ideal but I am confident there will still be a football club here for next season. We had 21 matches still to play at our ground this season, at all age groups.
"Rough calculations suggest that would have brought us between £5,000 and £6,000 in revenue. That includes the Sheffield Cup semi-final which was one of the biggest games in our history and we think would have attracted a very large crowd. After April 29, Worsbrough Bridge Cricket Club takes priority. “It will be extremely challenging to fit all our remaining fixtures in.”
Bridge have not played at home in more than six weeks due to their Park Road ground being flooded for the second time this season. Booth added: “Despite the floods and this situation with the virus, there have been a lot of positives from this season. A lot of our youth teams are doing really well in their leagues and our first team have reached the cup semi-final while the attendances are up more than 50 per cent. The club is in a strong position.”