Thursday, 22 October 2020

NL grant: utterly confused and bitterly disappointed

The distribution of the £10million grant from the National Lottery to the Vanarama National League has left me utterly confused and bitterly disappointed.

Maidstone United Football Club have many things to be proud of: one being the way that we run the business in a sustainable way, reinvesting the profits from our activities back into the club, and two the sheer volume of deeply committed supporters who come and support the Stones and pay their entrance fees.

The Government was specific in that the money they brokered for our football clubs, via the National Lottery, was designed to ’replace lost gate revenue.’ Clubs agreed to start the season, taking on trust the promise to cover these lost revenues. This has not happened.

Our average gate over the last two seasons has been 2,000 per match and our club will receive 36k per month from the National League. This is some 50% below our estimated monthly shortfall! It is also nearly £50k per month less than Dover who attract just over 1,000 per match.

On the face of this it looks stupid but when it becomes clear that those sitting on the Board making the decisions are heavily biased towards their own financial wellbeing, then it's not just a stupid decision but possibly corrupt.

For the Board of the National League to arbitrarily decide the first thing that they will do is take 60% for their own clubs and give the South and North just 20% each looks stupid, especially as they have no mandate to keep the money for themselves as they should be representing the interests of all of their member clubs.

We are sure that the league sponsors such as Vanarama, BT Sport and the National Lottery will be carefully reconsidering their sponsorships on the back of this scandalous decision!

This is a clear case of the Board not serving the membership and a clear misuse of the way that the money was supposed to be spent.

For Tonbridge Angels to get 30k per month on their crowds of 600 must have felt like Christmas to them but for Hungerford Town to get 30k per month on their crowds of just over 300 it must feel like Christmas, New Year and Easter all at once.

This is utterly crass, short-sighted and stupid, with the Government's words ringing in our ears that the money is: ‘to be spent on lost gate revenue.’

Hungerford and Tonbridge never ever had this amount of gate revenue so they are now in a massively better position as they will have spare money to sign players that they would never have been able to afford to attract.

This can also be seen with Oxford City and their 350 supporters getting the same 30k as Havant and Waterlooville with their 1,400 supporters.

The corruption and conspiracy theories abound when Boreham Wood, who have already made public their association with Sports Minister Oliver Dowden, and who have 730 supporters get just 10k per month less than Notts County with their 5,000 supporters.

Dagenham and Barnet, with their crowds of 1,200, also do well from the distribution – again just 10k per month less than Wrexham with their crowds of 4,000.

Please bear in mind that both these two clubs have members on the Board before you decide whether this constitutes abuse of power, conflict of interest or stupidity.

This is one of the most extraordinary cases of the misuse of grant funding that I have ever witnessed.

The FA and National League had a clear mandate to spend the money on lost gate revenue. What they have done is ignore this and instead allowed National League Board Members to favour some clubs with outrageous amounts of money that far exceed their gate receipts.

Terry Casey

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

A return to some sort of normality

We are all desperate to return to some sort of normality after some of the most stressful and anxious times we will ever experience.

Whilst to some football is just a sport, to many people it is much more than just a game. For millions of football supporters attending a game and supporting their team will be a massive step towards the new normal.

Maidstone United is, and will always be, a club deeply committed to the community it represents and the closure of the Gallagher has meant that thousands of people have not been able to gather to watch or play the game that they love.

We are working hard to get all elements of the business operating, as the club is suffering from the complete shutdown of all our income streams.

The most high profile of all our activities is of course the first team which drives the whole business model.

If the first team is doing well we find recruiting academy students is more successful, we find our player development squad numbers increase and, of course, we get bigger crowds through the gates.

On the flip side if we don’t get things right on the pitch, then financially and emotionally life can be dire.

Our three seasons in the National League were a struggle and I also felt last season was a great disappointment.

Despite the difficulties of the last four seasons, we have always made sure that the business is profitable and viable.

We will continue to take a sensible approach to how we run the club and are prudent about the money we spend.

One of the first decisions we have made is regarding the playing budget for the 20/21 season because our retention and recruitment will not progress unless we have a financial framework to work with.

We have contacted players we feel could be right for the team, initially to establish their thoughts about whether they would prefer to train three mornings or two evenings a week.

Our findings were clear in that the majority of the players we spoke to wanted to train three mornings.

There was no evidence that this would force the playing budget upwards but it was evident that the players we wanted were ambitious and wanted to make football their main source of income.

For Maidstone United to continue this training regime is a major statement of our intention to get back to the National League. Whilst our three seasons were difficult, we learned a lot and will not make the same mistakes.

The playing budget will be less than last season but because of the uncertainty around crowd numbers and start dates, we will try to be flexible and keep some funds in reserve.

In addition to the five contracted players, we are in advanced negotiations with a further four of last season’s squad.

We are keen to avoid signing the journeyman players who drift from club to club without really committing to Maidstone United, so our campaign will concentrate on more local players.

There are a substantial number of players that are of interest to us but making sure we make good signings has never been more important.

We know from telephone calls to hundreds of our supporters how vital the football club is to many people so we will ensure that we will be ready for the new season, whenever it starts. Thank you for your continued support.


Wednesday, 4 March 2020

The responsibility of doing our best

It’s been a difficult week at the club after that disappointing men’s first team result at Weymouth and the nature of the performance. 

We have been spending hours and hours with Terry, Bill, John and Hakan reflecting on what is currently not right and how we can fix it. Everybody has their view on what to do and we appreciate this. 

However, we have the responsibility of doing our best to operate the club successfully and put things right when needed. We know we don’t have all the answers but we are working hard.

The team struggled on Saturday because we were missing at least five key players and because the team endured a five and a half hour coach journey after a closure on the M25, arriving at the stadium less than an hour before kick-off!  All this puts huge pressure on the team. To his credit Hakan made no excuses for all this but I will. 

This week we know the players and coaches will try their damnedest to get the win, recover some self-respect and give something back to the supporters. Having said that it will not be easy. Welling are in form and we will still be missing several of our key players. It’s up to the others to show some pride and extra effort for the cause.

More generally we are suffering somewhat off the field as well. Due to overspending on the playing budget since the beginning of the season, some below par performances and a 15% drop in attendances, cash-flow is extremely tight. This reduces our room for manoeuvre. 

As I say repeatedly, we cannot and will not operate like several other clubs in the National League, where owners subsidise annual losses to the tune of between £500K and £1.5M. 

We believe several clubs in National League South also run at a significant deficit. We can’t match that and sometimes it’s frustrating. 

We budget to spend less than we produce in income. It’s that simple and it will keep the club alive and kicking when others fall by the wayside.

As stated previously we are still trying to identify possible investors to help the club grow sustainably faster but for the moment we are no further than several preliminary discussions. 

We are therefore unable to create financial miracles as we toy with ways of improving performances. 

We are already considering carefully how to operate next season. Clearly there are choices and changes to consider and we hope to make an announcement about all that shortly. 

In the meantime all Terry, Bill and I can do is to thank you for your support and please continue to get behind the team whenever you can, even when things are not going the way we all want them to. 

The club is a great club and it needs you to push behind it.


Wednesday, 1 January 2020

A defining decade for the Stones

So it is Happy New Year time once again. On behalf of the directors I would like to wish you all a very happy, healthy and successful 2020 whether you are with family, friends, at work or doing what you most enjoy, watching the Stones of course.

We have just ended an amazing decade in the life of the club. Back in January 2010 we were coming to the end of our tether and by August the Maidstone United train had hit the buffers.

Ten years on and we have a fantastic stadium in a great location near the town centre and we have enjoyed progress on and off the field for most of the decade. It really has been an extraordinary ride.

Thank you to all the fans. Those from yesteryear and then the wilderness years, and also all those who have joined the party at the Gallagher Stadium and supported the club on its recent journey.

Thank you to our business partners, in particular Gallagher Group, Britelite, Gullands, Shepherd Neame, Compare and Recycle, Rockingham Reins, Genco, Churchill Security, Manchett Facilities, Henry Reeves and Co, Simon Miller and Haynes who have stayed with us and supported us faithfully over the decade and thus enabled us to play at National League level.

Thank you to all the volunteers who have stood by us and with us and worked tirelessly to raise the profile and prosperity of the club. Thank you to our staff, who give everything for the cause and have done throughout the dramas of ten long years. Thank you all.

We have come a long way but there is still a long way to go. The challenge is to remain patient, be proud of the sustainable business model and community club we have and enjoy the football played at National South and National League level.

Accept that it will not always be the beautiful game. Understand how tough it is to survive financially when we are unable and unwilling to throw money we don’t have at the playing budget, while other clubs at this level and above spend hundreds of thousands of pounds which they don’t earn.

It’s frustrating trying to compete with these clubs but that’s just how it is right now. Maybe it is for the best. However, we do appreciate that because of these limitations not every aspect of how we run the club will please all of you all the time. All we can do is ask for patience and understanding. Everybody at the club is a supporter and we are always trying to do our best.

As you know we recently announced a plan to try and find new investment to enable us to grow sustainably, faster. Our strategic plan, the success of which will depend on this new investment, is to develop the stadium to enable us to increase our recurring commercial and football revenues.

We also want to keep developing the community side of the club including the women, disability and the youth football sections and ensure all this remains a valuable asset to the local area.

It’s a heck of a challenge for us to remain sustainable and to achieve a promotion to the EFL within the next decade. However, I believe that it is absolutely feasible and that this coming decade can be every bit as exciting for Maidstone United as the last one has been.

We have had plenty to cheer over the past ten years. I won’t bore you by discussing every memorable match in detail because like me you’ve probably watched most of the games fifty times already.

So instead, before I go, I’d like to name my team of the decade and invite you to comment and challenge my selections on social media.

I haven’t gone for any players from the last 12 months because it’s a bit too soon for this season and last season is generally best forgotten. However, I really hope by the end of this season some of our current players will have progressed from ‘favourites’ to ‘legends’.

Goalkeeper: Lee Worgan. Lee was outstanding for us over several years and played in two of our amazing three promotions in four years. He was a real club man and got involved in coaching and soccer schools. Became an official Stones legend for one particular penalty save and subsequent celebration.

Right Back: Jamie Coyle. OK, so I’m playing Jamie slightly out of position here but we’re overloaded with centre-back legends and Jamie was versatile enough to play right back. He was a strong defender and a stalwart for us for a couple of seasons. He was a leader too on the field and is now developing a good coaching career off it. In the runner-up position were other good players and characters like Seth Twumasi, Callum Driver and Richard Davies, who looked so promising before injury did for him.

Centre-Back: Steve Watt. Watty is a shoo-in for a centre back spot. Such a strong header of the ball, excellent reader of the game and a forceful communicator, who set a fine example with his commitment. A core part of our successful run. A club legend.

Centre-Back: Sonny Miles. It is to Sonny’s credit that he beats Lokko, De Havilland, Okuonghae, Finney, Parry, not to mention Elokobi, to this position. Very effective, always gave his heart for the club and played with total commitment. One of those who made you feel his heart was made of amber.

Left-Back: Tom Mills. Tom came up through the ranks and played for us for years and years, a good, solid defender, improved season on season and always reliable. Some spectacular goals were the icing on the cake. He beats Joe Anderson and the adaptable Bobby-Joe Taylor to the spot.

Right-Midfield/Wing: Zavon Hines. Zavon was only with us for a three-month period in 2017 but what a time that was. He was one of the best players ever to appear for the Stones and when he wanted to perform he was unstoppable. Some sublime moments of skill and great goals (Eastleigh away anybody?). He outdoes stiff competition from the dependable Matt Bodkin with Vas Karagiannis also close to featuring.

Centre-Midfield: Stuart Lewis. It’s a tough position to pick with so many good and popular players competing. Stuart wore his heart on his sleeve as well as the captain’s armband. Always showing a good example with his tireless running box to box. His signing in early 2017 saw a massive turnaround in our fortunes and we ended the NL campaign strongly.

Centre-Midfield: James Rogers. A credit to him for seeing off competition from other memorable club midfielders such as Danny Lye, Reece Prestedge, Micky Phillips, Jack Paxman, Jai Reason and Joe Healy, not to mention Jay Saunders. James was an old-fashioned ball-winner for the Stones and he commanded the midfield for a couple of terrific seasons. A real Stones legend.

Left-Midfield/Wing: Alex Flisher. What a player he was for the Stones. Skilful and with a huge heart he was the sort of player you would travel far and wide to see. A real eye for goal and a fabulous left foot. Good enough to keep Blair Turgott and Jamar Loza out of the side, both of whom were excellent for the club.

Striker: Joe Pigott. His performances lifted us in 2017, we were not the same side without him. Perhaps the best signing of that period. A strong, skilful striker, he could score out of nothing, as those of us who witnessed his stunning opener against Dagenham in February 2017 would affirm. Now doing well a few levels above. Good luck to him. One of our own.

Striker: Frannie Collin. A Stones legend goal-poacher, who will always be remembered for his winner against Stevenage, fortunately before VAR was invented. Was a key part of our climb from the depths of the pyramid and fans took him to their hearts, like they did to most of these players. Close runners-up were Jay May and Shaun Welford, two talented strikers who played their hearts out for us, and also Ian Draycott.

Manager: Jay Saunders. Well, who else? Seven memorable seasons as gaffer. Many of these players were his recruits, he certainly knew how to get them to play for us.

Head of Football: Bill Williams. Still the wisest footballing mind in the office. An invaluable source of support, advice and encouragement for Terry and me over the past ten years.

Well, that was fun to do, not easy to make team selections, brings back many good memories. I would certainly love to see that team in its prime out on the field again.

All that remains is for me to wish you a Happy New Year and a Happy New Decade and Come on you Stones!

Oliver Ash

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Dead and Bury’d

So after death throes worthy of a B movie murder scene and with a Parliamentary Committee picking over the bones and extracting embarrassing platitudes from EFL and FA executives, it looks like Bury FC are finally gone – kicked into hell by a succession of shady and inadequate owners and a book full of inadequate rules and regulations.

What can be gathered from snippets of information and from news reports of unlikely white knights, dropping out as they realise the extent of the financial debris cluttering the club, is that nothing can be gathered. 

Bury have been stripped bare and left for dead. There is virtually nothing remaining. The stadium has been mortgaged to the hilt and eye-watering fee payments made to shady, off-shore companies using the club’s precious monies; even the car park has been sold. Opening the cupboards at Gigg Lane reveals a plethora of skeletons.

What has happened to Bury has led to a crescendo of angry fans turning on their owners, to a stream of pundits and journalists turning on the EFL and EFL clubs for approving the system of rules and regulation which failed to protect Bury, nearly failed to protect Bolton and Blackpool and may yet turn out to have failed to protect other vulnerable clubs like Oldham or Notts County.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have great sympathy for Bury fans. They are the innocent ones. At least they are alive and kicking and will fight back, survive and prosper again, as Maidstone United fans eventually did after our own liquidation event in 1992. 

However I have no sympathy and still less understanding for all the one-tracked crocodile weepies who complain that all would be right if only the Premier League gave lower league clubs more money. This is just nonsense. The only winners would be players whose salaries would inflate to absorb the additional funds. Do you really think club owners would do anything else with the cash?

The solutions to helping the fans of League 1 and 2 and National League clubs to avoid the fall-out from financial collapses shouldn’t have to depend on hand-outs from the Premier League, who already contribute vast sums to grassroots football and to lower league pro football. They require new administration by an independent body, not beholden to club owners’ self-interest, and missioned to develop and protect the game as a whole. 

To do this they need to have regard for the unique depth of pro football in England with its 115 pro clubs, but be prepared to consider creative ways of making it more efficient, sustainable, responsible, appropriate for today’s world and safer for supporters, for many of whom their football club is not just a big part of their life, it is their life. 

They should consider, for example, making two regional divisions out of League 2 and National League, saving the hugely expensive and polluting journeys undertaken by clubs, extreme examples of which would include Dover travelling 400 miles to Barrow to play in front of barely one thousand fans.

They should toughen up rules on fit and proper owners – this is a no-brainer and one can only wonder why it has taken the Bury debacle for it to be so high on everybody’s agenda now. How about zero tolerance for any previous convictions or bankruptcies whatsoever? 

They should level up competition and reduce pressure on owners to spend more money on player salaries than their clubs can afford by setting division-wide salary caps and policing them rigorously.

There should be tough budgeting rules pre-season limiting what clubs can spend to what income is verifiably due or guaranteed in advance by owners. Talk to the French Rugby Federation for goodness sake, who administer similar rules in their top two divisions and make them work.

Then they should grab the low-hanging fruit. By allowing 3G pitches in League 1 and 2 they will open the door to clubs adding some £300-500k per annum to their net revenues. This is life-changing. This could prevent a second Bury. 

We all know these pitches are used in international competition and are of the highest quality. They are completely safe. The only difference is the bounce and roll is slightly different but then so is it on many bog-like League 2 pitches. Ask any fan of the National League clubs using 3G pitches: Sutton Utd, Bromley, Harrogate and my club Maidstone, whether they enjoy watching football on 3G pitches and you will receive a huge thumbs up. These clubs have enjoyed great success and prosperity using 3G pitches.

So now a new and progressive independent regulator should boot into touch the conservatism and prejudice of some clubs and other administrators and open the door to 3G pitches. Otherwise it’s pure hypocrisy, crocodile tears and ultimately, a further kick in the nuts for the fans.


Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Still grounds for optimism

It’s difficult enough when the business you run struggles after so many successful years but when that business is the football team that you support, it makes life almost unbearable.

I know how the fans have felt over the past three years in the National League and although we enjoyed the feeling of relief when we stayed up in the first year, since then life as a supporter of the Stones has been testing at times.

As owners we have felt the financial impact of trying to stay in the National League. In previous years we have carried our profits into the next season and used the money for building works and improving the facilities.

We did, however, make a miscalculation when we increased playing budget by about 20% at the start of the 2018/2019 season. We felt this would guarantee our survival at this very competitive level, help to sustain attendances and see us push on to mid table and maybe even flirt with the playoffs.

The reality, as we now know, was the polar opposite, with a miserable season ending in relegation.

We have learned from our mistakes and will continue to learn.

Our business model will never be in a position to compete with the likes of Salford and Leyton Orient. In previous seasons, we have also been plagued with trying to compete against clubs who have thrown money into a playing squad and inflating the financial expectations of players.

While we are desperate to win matches for ourselves and the supporters it cannot be done at all costs, which would put the club’s long-term stability at risk.

I have absolutely no doubt that John and Hakan will bring the Gallagher back to life and bring a team together that we can be proud of.

The players we have signed so far have all demonstrated the same eagerness to play for Maidstone United, with one of the big reasons for signing being the reputation of the supporters.

I was humbled by the support and kind words I have received and the massive optimism that supporters show despite everything we have had to put up with.

Here’s to 2019/2020 being a season to remember for all the right reasons.

Terry Casey

Friday, 25 January 2019

Questions, comments and fake news

Replies to questions, comments and fake news about Maidstone United, finances, player wages, 3G pitches and how professional football leagues could be restructured in England.

For those of you who missed my informal Q & A down at the club recently (only people called Morgan ever seem to turn up to those…) here are some blunt replies to comments, questions, allegations and fake news items heard and read recently. 

(This was written just before John Still took over as Maidstone Manager.…)

« Maidstone Utd have no ambition »

Yes we do, we want to be a successful, sustainable, stable and family-friendly club. We know we’ve made some questionable decisions this season : apologies but we’re only human and we always seek to do our best in the long-term interests of the club. We’re ambitious for the club to rise as high as it can in the football pyramid while respecting the above goals. After three difficult years in National League we now realise it will take longer than we thought to get into the EFL but so be it. With our financial structure – and unwillingness and inability to subsidise the club – that’s where we are for the moment.

« What financial structure ? »

We’ve invested in a £5 million stadium fit for National League but not EFL League 2 (another £1-2 million would be needed). No other club except Fylde in National League has had to build and finance a stadium from scratch in the last 8 years. The business model means there is little spare cash to finance the business except that which is generated from the business itself. In good seasons we have managed to get promotions while earning enough revenue to keep building the stadium so we would comply with League rules. This means we have no cash reserves built up. It is all in the metal and concrete. In difficult seasons like this one, where we have extra costs from changing the playing squad and management and crowds have dropped significantly, the cash flow is under great pressure. It is a vicious circle. People don’t always realise that there is constant capital expenditure and maintenance needed to keep the show on the road. This season for example we have had to replace the floodlights and restructure the pylons at a cost of some £40K. Last season we installed toilets under the Genco Stand (£60K if I remember correctly). In another season or two we will probably have to replace the pitch. We understand that (particularly the more recent) fans might deem the current situation of struggling in NL for three seasons too awful to bear but every supporter who gives up on us reduces our revenues and impacts the budget. You need to know that.

« Are Maidstone able to survive in the National League or are we a ‘yo-yo’ team now ? »

Right now the NL is so tough to survive in financially that we will struggle to break out unless we find a new source of funds. We are always open to consider new investors or partners who could have better financing and a sensible strategy going forward. However as we are at present, if we manage to recruit more wisely, we should be able to enjoy stable years in NL and/or play-off years in NLS. We hope fans will buy into this reality as something to savour not to abandon. In due course we will find a way of moving on upwards but it will take time. It may be the same sort of ‘yo-yo’ situation as we experience with Brive rugby club at present; we just have to make the best of it.

« Does the club have an £800 per week wage cap ? »


«  Are you lying ? »

Er…no. We set playing budgets where we believe we can afford them as part of the overall forecast for turnover and expenditure in the business. We have never set any individual player salary caps although we judge on a case by case basis if we think we should make a special effort or pay a fee for a particular player. I think it would be indiscrete to individual players to give more detail on this.

« You seem to play your cards close to your chests… »

What ? Please tell me you’re joking. I challenge you to find me any other club where the owners are so open with information about the club, regularly do Q & A sessions, publish blogs about the club, submit their accounts promptly, sometimes with additional comments and press releases and provide information whenever reasonably requested (without breaching confidentialities) on every aspect of the club.

« What moneys do you and Terry take out of the club ? »

None. No interest, no salaries, no expenses. We hope to recover some or all of our investment as and when we divest in due course but even then a principal goal will be to leave the club in good hands, otherwise all that has been built up will have been in vain.

«  We had everything and we threw it away… »

No we didn’t, cheer the fuck up.

« Why do we have so many loan players ? »

Sometimes you don’t want contract commitments to players. This season ironically we planned to put more players on contract and in the end this has slightly back-fired on us. Several players have gone out on loan during the season but only on reduced wages, so this is costing us significant amounts of money and impacting the current playing budget…

« Why don’t we recruit a new centre forward ? »

We’ve been trying. We can’t afford to pay top striker’s wages right now, particularly if this means we have to relocate the player and put him up in a hotel or flat. We can’t really afford this sort of arrangement at the moment, we have to be more selective. But yes, we are looking for an affordable big centre forward who knows where the goal is…

« Money from sale of Turgott will finance next season’s NLS squad. »

Sorry ? This is about as truthful and accurate as a Donald Trump tweet. Please stop.

« Did we ever buy that piece of land from the Council ? »

Well we finally exchanged contracts on it a few weeks ago after a ridiculous amount of time and effort. We are waiting for final clearance from The Millenium Commission (don’t ask…) before we can complete.The purchase is highly significant in the medium term as it will enable the West Stand development to take place when it can be financed.

« Why did you replace the first 3G pitch after only 4 years ? »

It was wearing out quicker than we planned because of the high usage. It had to meet demanding standards of the leagues (FIFA 2*) in terms of ball roll, bounce, shock absorption, etc, while at the same time being used extensively (50+ hours a week). It failed its test in 2016. We then had a panic to replace it as economically and fast as possible in Summer 2016, which disrupted our Summer and pre-season useage. This time around we hope to get 5 or 6 years out of it but we have to be ready to finance another one as from the end of next season just in case…this might cost around £100K…

« Let’s face it 3G is never going to be allowed in EFL is it ? Let’s go back to grass »

Not so fast please. Never say never. It’s not going to be easy but as I still believe in the massive benefits of 3G to smaller pro clubs I still believe it will be accepted sooner or later in EFL. One alternative proposal we are making at present to EFL is that League 2 should accept a grace period of three years to allow NL 3G clubs a reasonable time to replace their pitch. So if a club were relegated after one or two seasons they would have been able to keep their 3G pitch and maintain their community structures. Also clubs might just install a better natural pitch after a season or two of planning and with the benefit of having enjoyed generous EFL funding for a couple of seasons. This would ultimately benefit all League 2 clubs.

Going back to grass is simply not an option for us at present. The 3G pitch does bring in significant revenues and it gets people coming down to the club and becoming involved. It’s part of our DNA. Replacing it next time will not be cheap but it won’t be ridiculous either (see above). In 2016 we invested in a new engineered sub-structure which should last 20 years. This means only the actual carpet needs relaying.

Don’t think natural pitches come cheap either. High cost and high maintenance. For a top hybrid pitch we’d need not far short of £1 million to install one and you can’t play more than roughly 10 hours a week on it depending on the weather so it won’t allow any significant community use. 3G, hybrid and natural pitch technology is all changing fast so we have to try and keep our eye on the ball here and be creative and reactive.

« Why is the National League such an impossible one to survive in ?

The fact is that the five professional divisions in English football are administered by three separate leagues, The Premier League, The Football League (EFL) and the National League. These are not administered in a uniform, structured way. Rules are different between the leagues and there are rich and poor divisions. When you go from NLS to NL you find the average playing budget for the NL is £500,000 higher (yes you read that correctly, perhaps I should spell it out like they used to do on the teleprinter when Raith Rovers beat East Fife 10-0…) than in the South division below ; you cannot by law drink alcohol while watching a match, which probably costs us £80K in lost revenues ; the travel and accommodation costs are far higher as the league is truly national ; to compete you may have to convert to full-time employment contracts and add various layers of playing and non-playing staff to your operation. If after all this your club is still standing well I’ve got more bad news for you, you may also have to fund considerable additional stewarding services to segregate matches. That all adds up to a hit of about £800.000.

All this is in addition to any one-off costs of extending stadia to comply with strict rules on capacity, seating, dressing rooms, floodlighting, etc. After absorbing all these costs you might find you cannot increase your playing budget very much so you then find yourself battling relegation at the bottom of the table, resulting in crowds dwindling and reduction of ancillary revenues, cup income, etc. So the National League could be said to be the graveyard of the pyramid. This explains why clubs are so desperate to get out of it and spend obscene amounts of money in owner subsidies to do so. Forest Green Rovers were rumoured to be subsidising at £2 million a season while in NL and Ebbsfleet the same amount until recently. My guess is that today many NL clubs are still choosing/having to inject £500K-£1 million per season into their clubs. Leyton Orient new owners are rumoured to have already ‘invested’ £10 million since taking over in June 2017 as they try and make the leap into the promised land of the Football League (EFL). The bottom line is that annual handouts to clubs from the EFL from commercial and TV surpluses total around £1 million today for League 2 clubs while they are less than £100,000 for National League clubs.

There is of course a parallel with clubs in The Championship busting a gut to try and reach the Premier League, As an example take AFC Bournemouth in Season 16-17 in the Premier League. Their reported turnover was £139 million. Of this amount £124 million came from Premier League TV and commercial rights.* That’s 90% of turnover. Staggering. By comparison the money is considerably lower in the Championship. In 2015-16 season club turnovers were between £10 – 40 million and total losses in the division were over £200 million. ** Some clubs will risk everything to try and get to The Premier League. It is a similar story (albeit on a far smaller scale) with the gulf between the National League and EFL League 2.

« What can be done to change this imperfection in the league structures ? »

Now that’s a really good question. The answer is lots but football administration changes very slowly in England so don’t wait up for it to happen.

40 years ago the Conference was created and populated with the top semi-pro clubs. Today the National League is predominantly populated with fully professional clubs in their diverse forms. When you look at some of the clubs playing in The National League today (or who have recently been in it) you could be forgiven for thinking this was a brother division to League 2. Here are twenty of them – Chesterfield, Tranmere, Leyton Orient, Hartlepool, York, Torquay, Wrexham, Chester, Stockport, Southport, Aldershot, Dagenham, Barrow, Macclesfield, Barnet, Luton, Halifax, Cambridge, Lincoln, Grimsby…

One argument I find appealing is that this division should now be incorporated into the EFL as League 3. There could be renegotiation with the TV companies and other EFL sponsors for extra rights and fees, as EFL would have extra matches to screen and more product to sell. There would need to be a negotiation with The FA for additional financial support for the new division, integration of the division into the EFL rules, reorganisation of EFL competitions, etc. However all this should lead to extra revenues being generated to provide League 3 clubs with a financial support of, say, £300-400K per season, which would be a decent, gradual step-up between NL and League 2 and which would be welcomed by all National League clubs and especially those clubs pressing to join EFL at present and risking a fortune to do so.

The question of increasing promotion places up into League 2, the ‘3 up 3 down’ campaign upon which the National League focusses so much attention today, would be resolved in one fell swoop : there would even be four up and four down as in the rest of EFL. Relegation from League 3 would be as it is at present in National League.

National League clubs playing on 3G pitches would also have their difficulties resolved by being members of EFL League 3 and being entitled to 3 years in which to remove their pitch in the event of promotion to League 2.

Clubs in League 3 would be less likely to risk everything for promotion because the financial gap between League 2 and League 3 would be smaller than the current gulf between NL and League 2.

In terms of administration EFL would need additional resources to run an extra division but after the restructuring period these would not be significant and higher costs would effectively be compensated by economies as the National League would effectively disappear. The administration of NLS and NLN, now the highest non-league divisions, could be handed to one of the three leagues currently running Steps 3 and 4 of the national game. In due course sponsorship and rights sales would enable these two top non-league divisions to create new revenues, identities and prestige.

Wouldn’t it make sense for the professional National League clubs of today to be incorporated into the EFL ? Wouldn’t it make sense for non-league football to be regional with semi-pro clubs at its pinnacle ?

« Are Maidstone going to be relegated this season ? »

We still have a chance to survive but it will take a minor miracle. We’ll be doing everything we reasonably can on and off the field. If we do go down it will be a blow of course but we’ll recover, go again and bounce back stronger and better prepared next time 

Oliver Ash