Grassroots football is on it's way back from tough times during lockdown. Here is a fascinating insight into how the restrictions have affected one Black Country club.

In March 2020 the United Kingdom was rocked by the Covid-19 pandemic, a new unprecedented strain of coronavirus that would change the normal lives of just about every single person in the country.

Lockdowns were enforced, shops, pubs and other hospitality venues were closed for the foreseeable future, and all professional and grassroots sports were put on hold until further notice.

For the average sport fan, this was a severe blow to the daily routine of their lives but for those working within the local sporting clubs, the effects of the pandemic were and still are catastrophic.

The West Midlands Premier League clubs were majorly inconvenienced, with Wolves’ journey into Europe and Aston Villa’s tense bid for Premier League survival being put on hold, whilst West Bromwich Albion’s push for promotion to the top-level of English football from the Championship and Birmingham City’s battle to prevent themselves from dropping the other way were also suspended.

But these problems drifted into insignificance when compared to the future of some of the lesser-known clubs of the region.

The lack of income from spectators in the stadiums for the clubs at the top-level would have no doubt been a slight concern, but that blow would have been well and truly softened by the huge sums of money received in television rights (the Premier League is the most watched football league in the world, whilst the Championship ranks in the top five.) As well as this by May, two months into the first national lockdown, it was confirmed by the Premier League and EFL that both the Premier League and Championship would be resuming behind closed doors middle of June.

Yes, Coronavirus was indeed a major blow for top-level clubs, but there was always the feeling that something would give, and football would continue for the 44 clubs in the top two tiers of English football with relative ease albeit in abnormal circumstances.

However, for every single club below the top two tiers of English football there was no such guarantee, and with talk of a European Super League recently hitting the headlines, clubs are now fearing for the future of their club’s as well as the sport itself.

Dudley Town are one of those clubs, currently sitting in 9th place in the West Midlands Regional Premier Division, with their last match taking place before the new year, on the 19th December, and club treasurer and director David Ferry, was keen to highlight the impact that not playing games on a regular basis has.

“The major impact has been on the well-being of our players and the supporters as the pandemic as had a real impact given the players can’t play,” said Ferrier.

“The pandemic has also hit off field activities as well and has affected the supporters who can’t get out and watch the games.”

The point Ferrier makes is valid and highlights the issue of mental health in football at all levels of the game, not just the lower levels of the English football pyramid, however the financial impact of the pandemic, is one that has been dealt harder the further down the English game you go.

“We are one of the lucky clubs where are our overheads are limited,” explains the Dudley Town director.

“We rent the facility we play at and our landlord has ceased all rent payments during lockdown and we also pay out a limited playing budget and have no players on contract.”

“In contrast, I know a number of non-league clubs still have large overheads whilst they have no revenue streams and clubs still have rates to pay, insurance, energy bills and players who may be under contact.”

Indeed, the figures behind some clubs are stark with some clubs as high as League One level finding it a challenge just to survive week by week through this global crisis.

Some influential voices within the football world believe that the Football Association haven’t been proactive enough to protect the future of local community football clubs, but Ferrier only has positive words regarding the FA’s response.

“To be honest, I think the FA and other sporting bodies have been very good.”

“Various grants and loans have been made available to clubs and besides the financial support a number of organisations are offering support around mental health and so on.”

A lot has been made of the financial struggles of football clubs in the past 18 months, a topic which was particularly highlighted by the demise of Bury Football Club in August 2019, a situation in which no organisation came out the other end in a particularly good light, so it’s particularly refreshing to hear a director to sing the praises of those who make the decisions in the English game.

But grants and loans alone will simply not suffice in a bid to keep community clubs afloat, with many non-league clubs running fundraisers to keep the club alive just for the short-term.

“We run a weekly fundraiser which we call our Super 6 which is based on predicting the correct outcome of six games over a given weekend of fixtures,” explains Ferry.

“We have also received a small grant from the Football Foundation to implement COVID safety measures, but this is currently on hold with the suspension of all our matches, but thankfully our outgoings are minimal, so we are surviving.”

With fundraisers and grants hopefully keeping clubs alive for the short-term, the hope is that the majority of clubs will survive and continue to be productive on and off the pitch, when normality returns and fans can travel in their droves, but chairman and directors are going to have to prepare for a new normal in the short to medium-term.

“We all hope that football can return to a new normal as soon as possible, but I say new normal because I don’t think it will be the same as it was pre-pandemic for a while to come yet,” ponders the Dudley Town director.

“I suspect there will need to be social distancing in place when games are taking place and I’m sure there will be a tier system in place for a while after this initial lockdown has finished.”

“Our hope is that we can return to competitive football as soon as possible and all clubs find a way to survive in these difficult times, and the non-league footballing community is tightly knit, and clubs are looking out for each other, despite the normal competitive edge between clubs.”

It may be a struggle for the foreseeable future for those at the lower end of the English pyramid, but what is certain is that the community and spirit between the local clubs, is going to be absolutely critical in terms of survival for clubs like Dudley Town.