#LETFANSIN: Without paying spectators, we cannot survive. We would be faced with resigning from National South – and taking the large fine – and disbanding the first-team, warns Eastbourne Borough CEFO John Bonar
EASTBOURNE BOROUGH chief executive John Bonar says the very future of the club is in the balance if fans' continued to be banned from attending their games at Priory Lane.
Semi-professional football clubs at National League South level had expected permission to re-admit spectators from the start of October but that hope has been snatched away by the UK Government.
Clubs in the Isthmian League Premier Division can attract crowds of 600, 400 in the level below and 300 in Steps Five and Six.
A club statement said: “For some, the future and welfare of a modest semi-professional football club, somewhere in South-East England, may seem an irrelevance. Who needs football anyway? And are there not greater affairs of state to deal with – matters of life and death? Yes, of course, and nobody at the Borough is being flippant.
“But the Sports are suffering from a Law of Unintended Consequences. Non-league football grounds have not been singled out as Covid-19 hotspots, nor their members as reckless rule-breakers. Transmission rates are not identified as unusually high in the open air in postcode BN23. On the contrary.
“But the Government clamp-down was designed to manage crowds at huge gatherings and major sporting events. Nobody could be too surprised to find, say, a Twickenham Rugby international put on hold, with its usually heaving bars, packed car parks and squeezed concourses.
“There is an argument for carefully managed and limited crowds at the major fixtures – such as Brighton and Hove Albion trialled recently at their stadium, with apparent success. But it’s not Priory Lane.”
Bonar said: “The very future of our football club is in the balance.
“Has Eastbourne Borough more in common with Manchester City or with (Isthmian League South East Division side) Chichester City?
“Even on a good day, our gates barely touch four figures. You can do a complete circuit of the ground, during a match, without physical contact with another human being!
“You can even have a natter at two meters distance, or offer the linesman your opinion of his offside decision. We have space to spare.”
Tenants Langney Wanderers are allowed a crowd limit of 300 for their Southern Combination League and Cup games, while Eastbourne Borough aren’t allowed any fans due to their so-called Elite status.
“We were given specific rules to follow and we followed them,” said Bonar.
“We have spent thousands in the process. We take temperatures and mobile numbers. We have signage everywhere. We disinfect religiously.
“We were given clear pointers towards 3 October as our re-opening date and that has now been snatched away. Most ludicrously of all, the very same stadium where the tenants, Langney Wanderers, can leally play is barred to the landlords! It’s disgraceful"
Gary McCann and Steve McKimm, the managers of their National League South rivals Hampton & Richmond Borough and Tonbridge Angels, subliment their football made income by driving London black cabs, while managing part-time football clubs.
“The Elite definition means that your employees earn most of their income through football. Not true, for virtually all of our players," said Bonar.
“The classification happened without our knowledge. In the summer, the biggest clubs in the National League, the division above, were desperate to fulfil their play-offs and to keep their automatic promotion to the EFL.
“We had no issue with that. But nobody told us about the Elite status that came with it.
“If Government ministers seriously think we are elite or elitist, I openly invite them to take a Priory Lane tour. They will find us friendly, homely, busy, down to earth and passionate about what we are. There won’t be an elite person in sight. In fact, they’ll need to give me notice as I might be up a latter fixing the dodgy gutter on the stand!
“We have bills to pay and, from this week, players to pay. We have running costs for the stadium, the grounds, the clubhouse. Our two major sources of income are the bar takings – drastically down – and our gate receipts – nil.
“Its stark and simple. Without paying spectators, we cannot survive. We would be faced with resigning from National South – and taking the large fine – and disbanding the first-team.
“Then for season 2021-22 we would re-apply to join another suitable league, possibly the Isthmian League.”
Eastbourne Borough – the National League Community Club of the Year in 2018 – is a shining example. It provides sporting activity for 450 youngsters as well as walking football, disability football and women’s football. It has indoor bowls, social clubs for elderly folk and an Ofsted-acclaimed nursery.
Visit Eastbourne Borough’s website: www.ebfc.co.uk