It had been coming and it was no great surprise when our chairman Terry Barratt phoned me early last Friday afternoon to say that the Southern League programme had been suspended for two weekends. My immediate thought was that there would be no resumption and the season was probably finished and with the announcement on Thursday that Premier League and EFL football is now suspended until 30 April that remains the likely outcome. The Southern League have promised a further statement next week. In this special Coronavirus bulletin I will try and explain how the pandemic will affect Hitchin Town FC.
It had already been a challenging season for us because of the appalling weather. One of the wettest winters in memory had played havoc with our fixtures and we have had more postponements than I can ever remember. Crucially we have had a number of home Saturday games called off and cash flow wise this is always disastrous as the games get moved to Monday evenings. The difference in match day and social club income between Saturday and Monday is hugely significant as attendances will always be at least 25% lower. Every Saturday attendance exceeded 300 whereas the attendances against Lowestoft and Peterborough Sports on Mondays were 214 and 183. We were due to have six more home game and only four away games so again we lose out financially.
The weather also resulted in a lot of damage to fencing around the ground as the various storms wreaked their havoc and this is extra expenditure that had not been budgeted for and as yet has had to be put on the backburner. The postponements of home games means wasted money as programmes had been paid for and food bought in that was not used.
You might be thinking that surely the club should be in a strong financial position because of the money we accumulated in last season’s FA Cup run. We did indeed do very well and decided that we should invest those profits in the infrastructure of the club. Every Hitchin supporter was well aware the clubhouse was one step beyond being described as “run down” and desperately needed renovation. The roof leaked every time it rained and the toilets were barely fit for purpose. So the decision to invest the FA Cup profits was a no brainer and had to be done. Unfortunately the renovation was very expensive, particularly the roof as flat roofs are difficult to repair.
But at least now the clubhouse is in a much better condition with the roof and toilet renovation fully completed. We fully expected to gain more bookings and this was most definitely happening, justifying the capital outlay. So then the Coronavirus comes along to scupper matters. From today the social club has to shut down which means we now have no source of income and have no reserves to fall back on because of our investment in the Club’s infrastructure. On the football side we had already bought new dug outs as the previous ones were condemned and had also replaced the rotten wooden fencing on the dug out side of the ground which was falling down. We were also made to extend the dressing rooms in line with FA requirements to further increase our financial burden.
With football now suspended we have obviously lost match day income which is still absolutely critical to our finances. Another real worry is the fact that the Coronavirus virus will obviously impact on our sponsors. Their profitability will be taking a significant blow and if they have to analyse their costs they’re unlikely to consider sponsorship of a football club a necessity. We also face ongoing costs at a time when there is no income. Utilities still have to be paid including our rent and the end of season renovation work on the pitch will have to be paid. Various subscriptions and leasing agreements have to be paid as does our insurance.
How do we begin to budget for next season when we have no idea when non-league football will resume and with all the financial uncertainties hanging over us? Is it a worry that some supporters get out of the habit of going to football and will not come back? There is also uncertainty with players who are very much in the dark as to what the future holds for them. Whether Clubs will be able to pay at the same level as this season is a moot point and our manager Mark Burke faces a difficult period trying to get a squad together for next season as does every other manager.
I have been treasurer of Hitchin Town FC for over 40 years and have seen the Club face more than one financial crisis in that time but the current uncertainty is possibly the greatest challenge. We are undoubtedly going to need our wonderful supporters to get behind the Club to ensure we survive the crisis and we would welcome any suggestions that you may have. We are considering ideas to generate cash for the Club but your input would be very welcome.
I personally think that if one thing is for sure it is that there must be a Hitchin Town FC for future generations. We have a long and proud history and are a vital part of the local community as was shown by the support the Save Top Field campaign received. Rest assured we will come through this crisis by whatever means necessary.
BY ROY IZZARD