Annan Athletic are currently seventh in League Two.
They’re a part-time club who tend to get attendances in the region of 300 for home games. But those home games will now not be going ahead after the Scottish league postponed all fixtures due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Most big teams will be hit by the crisis, but should be able to absorb it. For clubs like Annan, though, the future is far less certain.
“My perspective at the minute is a bit clouded,” Peter Murphy, the Annan manager, told the Totally Scottish Football Show this week. “There’s a lot of uncertainty – from last week when we were told gatherings of over 500 would be cancelled, then the next day or so everything is shut down straight away. That was very confusing.
“But for ourselves and every other club at our level, effectively on Friday we’ve had more than likely 90% of our income stopped. There was a statement from the SFA and the SPFA just saying that games are postponed indefinitely, until something changes.”
The uncertainty mainly comes because people simply don’t know when football will be coming back, if at all. So what does a manager do with his players in that sort of situation?
“At the minute, not knowing what is happening, I’ve given the players a week off training and asked them to look after themselves as best they can. The guidelines that have just come out recommend training doesn’t go ahead at all levels: is that a recommendation, a guideline, a protocol?”
With a drop in income as severe as Murphy outlines, how will the club pay the wages of their players and staff?
“We had a meeting on Sunday, but 50% or more of that meeting was about the uncertainty, that hopefully we’re going to find out from the governing bodies what help is available, when we’re going to be playing games again, when the players can train.
“Another aspect of the meeting was how we’re going to generate income: one of that was trying to get people into the club, to spend money at our bar and function room, but if people can’t come in groups, that effects your earnings.
“We’re also reviewing our insurance policies, but it doesn’t cover something like this. I’m pretty sure most other clubs in the SPFL clubs have a standard policy and they won’t be covered. It’s worrying times, shall we say.”
There have also been suggestions that the season should be cancelled, not just in terms of the competition but because prize money can then be given out, which could ease the financial pressure. Murphy, however, isn’t sure, mainly because any solution to this crisis presents challenges.
“You’re asking a question I’m uncertain how to answer. There is the case that guidance needs to come out sooner rather than later – the uncertainty is the problem, and especially the likes of Annan, where it is geographically situated, it’s a little community. If a football club like Annan struggles to survive it will effect the whole community, because it’s a meeting place and somewhere kids can play.
“If the league was to continue behind closed doors there would be financial implications; if it was to stop there would be financial implications; to carry on in four weeks time there are players’ contracts that run out and there would be financial implications for that.
“These are big decisions to be made by people higher up in the government and FA, but everybody is in the same boat: even players in the higher league there are costs, and it seems like this could only be the start of it.”
Clubs like us need to be helped out, and told what to do.
Another solution is a form of wealth distribution from clubs higher up the ladder: would Murphy welcome something like that?
“At the moment any lower-league club would be looking for any help financially from any avenue, but as I said before Premiership clubs will have a lot of outgoings, and they’re going to be in the same positions as ourselves but on a different level.
“In an ideal world the government would say there’s money there for everyone. That’s in an ideal world, but we don’t know whether that’s going to happen or not.”
The main message from Murphy was that help is required from the authorities, both in football and beyond.
“From a financial standpoint, the club are going to need some help. Where that comes from, we don’t know at the minute. Clubs like us need to be helped out, and told what to do.”
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