We last provided an official club statement for you all on March 23rd and are aware that our supporters and sponsors will be interested in a further update given the ever-changing landscape we are all operating in currently.
First and foremost the overriding concern and priority for everyone at Ebbsfleet United FC has been the welfare of our people and community. Our staff were sent home relatively early as the pending health crisis became evident and we locked down the stadium and offices to restrict the need for travel and place the least potential strain on NHS resources as possible.
There has been an enormous sense of pride in our club and community in the way everyone has reacted in a unified fashion, most evident at 8pm last night and also Thursday last week when our home echoed with cheers, claps and the rattling of pots and pans from our neighbouring residential blocks in support of our incredible NHS and other key services workers and their selfless efforts for us all.
Social media has allowed us to witness similar support for our community services by members of our Fleet family far and wide and we’re so proud of the way you are all representing the badge.
Staff and Players
You will be pleased to know that our players, playing staff and front and back office staff are all in good health to date and whilst we have been required to furlough staff due to the cessation of the industry, they all to a man and woman have demonstrated a generosity of spirit and willingness to help out and do whatever needs to be done to help and support the club.
Like the majority of businesses at present, our club is affected financially by our industry being shut down. We thought it might assist if we outlined below some of the processes and actual reality of what all of the government assistance and plans means to your football club; clarity and understanding will hopefully make you feel better informed and aware of the situation currently and what the future may look like.
At present, as it stands we know little more than we knew two weeks ago at the last update but we can provide more detail as follows.
There are some welcome initiatives the Government has instigated which you will have probably read about, and we’ve summarised below how these assist and affect businesses and a club like ours in the National League System.
Firstly – the Job Retention scheme, the most tangible help for businesses such as ours that are unable to trade due to the government-mandated lockdown.
We must keep paying our PAYE employees, firstly because it is the right thing to do, and secondly because we have employment contracts in place. This includes our players and the majority of staff. As we have shut down operations and are effectively not trading we have followed procedure and everyone has agreed to being “furloughed”. This means that all employment and contracted rights are retained; however, the period for which everyone is unable to work will be subject to a government funding rebate of 80% of each person’s monthly wage, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.
The club is making an effort to continue to cover 100% of everyone’s wage despite not trading and we hope this will continue throughout any lockdown period. The uncertainty of the length of lockdowns and future planning makes guaranteeing anything very difficult at present.
Business challenges and funding
The challenge for all businesses and sporting clubs is that even with this scheme, the cash flow to cover wages for staff needs to be present now. This is very difficult when turnover streams such as home matches and events have been stopped. The government is hoping the scheme will be up and running to rebate the cash back into businesses this month which will be a huge help.
It is important to note that all of a club’s outgoings and obligations essentially remain and are due each month including utilities, all wages and contracts, premiums, communication costs, etc.
At the time of writing the Premier League have announced an advance funding payment of £125m to the EFL and National League which potentially may be hugely helpful to all National League clubs like ours depending on how it is allocated, we await the detail with great interest.
However, on the surface of things, it appears a magnanimous, welcome and critical gesture from the Premier League who have experienced some heavy and premature criticism this week particularly around their response to the crisis. Credit must be given where due and we hope football fans at all levels acknowledge this funding offer.
Additionally the government set out a plan to guarantee small and medium business loans to 80% of their value which in theory would greatly reduce the risk and exposure for banks and financial institutions and allow them to advance loan funds to businesses to get everyone through this cash flow crunch during the crisis.
Unfortunately, in reality this scheme proves largely out of reach for most, if not all football clubs. The loaning institutions are largely adhering to stringent qualifying criteria meaning that only businesses who might have qualified successfully for a loan under their usual testing criteria prior to the COVID-19 outbreak are able to access these loans. The harsh reality is that loaning to football/sporting clubs is against the self-imposed policy of the ‘Big 4’ banks and so straight away we, along with all other clubs, are not able to access or benefit from the government guarantee.
There is a £10,000-£25,000 one-off cash payment for businesses such as ours which is being processed through local government authorities and like most businesses we look forward to benefitting from that when it is able to be processed. This is calculated on rateable value (business rates) and we expect to qualify for the £10,000 grant in this scheme. Every little bit certainly helps.
Contractors and self-employed
One of the sectors that has been hardest hit by this crisis is the self-employed and contractor sector. We have a small number of valued contributors and staff to the club week in week out who fall into this category.
This sector does not qualify for the job retention scheme – however, government announced last week that they can access up to 80% of their profit based on historic reporting, lodgements and data. This of course produces additional challenges for our self-employed people as the nature of business is that their income is often sporadic and not consistent year on year and so what they reported last year may not be reflective of what they were actually earning when the lockdown began. We will continue to assess this regularly and once some clarity is provided on what percentage of their income our self-employed can claim back in future, we will look at what the club can do to assist and close that gap if possible.
We hope the above information gives you some insight and clarity on what we are working through and with. Obviously times are very difficult for the majority of society and we are just one football club among a national chamber of commerce and business community who are doing our best to work through this unprecedented and unexpected challenge.
The club is a huge part of your lives and your interest is appreciated so we thought we would offer this rundown.
The League and completion of 2019/20 season
The other very important aspect in terms of our business and the future is the League shutdown and what is going on around those plans. You will have seen plenty of discussion about the leagues below Step Two (National Leagues North and South) being expunged and there has been a great deal of speculation around what might happen with our league, the EFL and Premier Leagues.
The National League board and executive are dealing with the same unknowns and variables we all are currently. We have regular discussions with our league representatives at board level and have also made our thoughts and suggestions known to the league through the correct and proper channels. Some 24 National League clubs and 48 North and South clubs will all have their own view and unique situations that will guide their own suggestions and preferences as to what should happen but we thought an update on the actual process and where it all stands now might assist supporters.
The National League most recently advised that the competition is suspended indefinitely. The board met earlier this week and they are seeking legal advice. This legal advice is around the process and legalities under the League’s operational guidelines and rules so that the board can put a legal and enforceable mechanism and process in place to decide the end to this season.
That may sound confusing so we will try and explain a little clearer. Normally if the League has a large decision to make, or even small alterations or decisions to rules, competitions, commercial matters etc., they would be tabled as a motion at an EGM or the AGM each year. Motions are voted for as those in favour or those against. Under the current system, National League clubs have a vote each, so 24 votes, and National League North and South have eight votes each as a league.
Usually prior to the meeting, the North and South leagues would all meet and they would vote among themselves to determine where their league’s eight votes should be allocated. Then in the main National League meeting those eight votes either way would be tallied alongside the 24 National League club votes and an outcome would be reached.
So with a huge decision like this, the National League is seeking guidance and legal opinion on how any motions about cancellation or continuation of the league should be written. Essentially the League is getting clarity and deciding on what any motion should be and how it should be written.
As a club we stand to benefit or be harmed depending on which of the various proposed schemes being spoken of to end the season or continue it are agreed upon.
Kevin Watson and the team ensured a strong period of football leading up to the closure which saw us rise in the table and potentially out of the relegation zone should, as expected, only three clubs be relegated this season. On a roll and up towards the top of the form table over the past few months we had every reason to be confident of continuing to “trade out” of the risky positions and consolidate our National League status for next year.
Coming back at some time in the future to finalise the season appears to be less likely and less possible each day that passes. Why is that? Well for a start many clubs, including us, run on a 44-week contract year for players and playing staff which means in four weeks’ time our squad is no longer ours.
We would somehow need to go to market and retain and recruit an entire squad for eight matches to be played at a point in the future that no-one at this present time has any certainty around. There are far too many variables. There are a number of other impediments to this also such as player contract law, financial feasibility, etc.
If it was determined that no football would take place until August 1st, for example, and the first eight matches would be a finalisation of this current season, how would that in any way be palatable given squads will probably look very different and essentially have been built for the 2020/21 season? You can’t have the final crucial matches of a season battled out by new squads.
Often during times of crisis the most obvious and simple solutions are the best and most probable outcome. For this reason we feel that a cancellation of the 2019/20 season is the most sensible, workable and fair option. In saying that, a cancellation cannot be qualified, it cannot be cancelled only to have final finishing places decided and promotion and relegation taking place. A season is either cancelled or it isn’t.
Talk of awarding finishing places based on points per game, or where clubs stood when the lockdown commenced, or any other ad hoc idea undermines the integrity of the league and the competition. Clubs began the season accepting a draw was made and that at the end of those fixtures being played out, the final finishing positions would stand and promotion or relegation would take place.
To attempt to determine promotion and relegation places based on formulas and applying other calculations without all matches of the draw being played out, in a sport where home advantage, travel requirements, form changes, and the traditional all-important run-in towards the ‘Jeopardy’ of the final match of the season, would in our opinion totally undermine the integrity of the league and competition.
Clubs have so much to do and get in place before football starts again. The close season period of player retention and recruiting, budgeting, commercial business, season ticket packages, kit production and launch, pitch renovations, supporter forums, etc. is extremely important and all of those things require certainty for us to plan for.
A cancellation of 2019/20 season, and reboot with the same teams in the league for 2020/21 is in our view the fairest and most logical, common sense solution. If the EFL require a club to make up the numbers next season then we don’t believe there would be any National League club who would begrudge a club being promoted up to the EFL. We certainly wouldn’t and would support that.
Obviously one or two clubs will be disappointed if they were league leaders at the time of the shutdown or sitting clear in automatic promotion positions; however, that is one or two clubs. With so much football left (eight or nine matches and a tough play-off series of games) it is very difficult to take seriously complaints of clubs that sit in or within reach of the play-off places should they claim they are being denied promotion if cancellation occurs.
On the flip side, obviously some clubs might be considered very lucky to avoid relegation in such a scenario. However, at a time when kindness and a compassionate lean should exist as much as possible, surely denying a positive (promotion) is the less damaging option compared to confirming a negative (relegation) ?
Financial and crisis management texts and history are very clear in terms of the optimal strategy during periods of great stress and uncertainty. It is generally accepted as good practice to limit the variables, the change and effect that we do control in order to provide as much certainty and a foundation for planning and financial modelling and recovery as we possibly can.
A moratorium on promotion and relegation and cancellation of the season in full is the best and most tangible way to provide a semblance of certainty and a foundation for the clubs and leagues to rebuild and recover from these surreal times.
Please continue to look after yourselves and also those others you may or may not know who will benefit from you staying indoors and adhering to the strict lockdown conditions we are living under.
We all look forward to seeing you in future in happier and more optimistic times.
Up the Fleet!