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Weekly News - 24/3/20

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Weekly News - 24/3/20

Matlock Town boss Paul Phillips says the Northern Premier League had “no other choice” when the league announced on Tuesday afternoon that after consultation with the Southern and Isthmian Leagues , they would be implementing the process of terminating the 2019/20 season subject to ratification by the Football Association.

All three leagues were unanimous in stating that the season should come to an end following the Covid-19 outbreak and the stringent measures imposed by the Government. Assuming that the FA give the green light, the major issue is what happens next as regards final placings. Would an average points per game scenario occur or would the season be declared null and void? A decision cannot be made until the National League’s intentions are known.

The Gladiators would be safe from relegation, albeit by the skin of their teeth, if the season stops for good and average points per game is the formula decided upon. They are currently third from bottom and the bottom two teams in each of the four feeder leagues to the National League North and South would automatically be relegated. Matlock have the best points per game average of all the teams in third bottom spot over the four leagues, so in that case they would be one of two sides to escape the drop.

“The League really had no choice and it isn’t something they would have wanted to do” said Phillips.

“But when you look at the bigger picture with the seriousness of the disease and the implications for all clubs at this level, what alternative is there, at this point I can’t really see pre-season happening. We are where we are in terms of league position. I’m confident that if the season had continued as normal we’d have got up that table. I think clubs have to unite and support the decision. Football’s a hobby, at present people’s lives and their livelihoods are at risk.”

The suspension of the season is likely to have far reaching financial implications for a lot of non league clubs. A recent survey of all BetVictor NPL clubs revealed that the impact on all member clubs is estimated in excess of £3.25 million. While the League is lobbying the Government, the Premier League and other bodies for financial assistance, clubs, Matlock included, are trying to find their own ways of lessening the financial burden.

Following enquiries from fans asking how they could help, the Gladiators have launched a Crowdfunding scheme with the initial target of raising £15,000 to plug the gap in finances the club will be missing by not staging home matches, one of those being a financially lucrative clash with FC United of Manchester which would probably have attracted a gate of 1500 to the Proctor Cars Stadium. Take into account other income such as takings from the Shorts Lounge and tea bars and the 50-50 draw, Matlock will lose out substantially from this game being off.

Matlock have also had to cancel a forthcoming Sportsmans Dinner featuring Tony Cottee, functions in the Shorts Lounge and the Matlock Music Festival, scheduled for July, which would have brought in valuable funds.

Phillips himself has made a contribution to the Crowdfunding initiative and he says it is a great idea.

“It’s great and clubs right across the board are having to find ways to raise funds they’ve missed out on but really clubs at our level shouldn’t have to rely solely on these types of things. In these types of situations when our clubs’ futures are put at a high risk, money should filter down from the Premier League and other high levels, when you think about it £3.25 million is nothing and wouldn’t be missed by the big clubs. I’d like to see the non league clubs have the FA Cup money that’s left in the pot to put our clubs on an even keel and it would save quite a few non league clubs.”

Phillips also took time to praise those who had so far contributed to the fund which at 9.30 pm on Tuesday night saw a total of £2,585 raised by 74 supporters.

“It’s brilliant to see our fans backing the club and it makes me really proud to be manager of this football club. I’d like to thank each and every one of the supporters who’ve made a donation, please keep them coming in and we’ll do you proud in the future.”

Chairman Tom Wright echoed the manager’s thoughts.

“It’s been a fantastic response from our supporters so far and I’d like to thank them all. Any amount will be most welcome and appreciated and when I look each day to see how the money’s coming in I feel humble and really proud to be Chairman of this great club.”

Although playing a football match seems to be an awfully long way into the future, Phillips is trying to prepare for next season, although he admits that is difficult with the current uncertainty.

In case the season does resume and looking further ahead, he signed midfielder Scott Sephton from Warrington Town, a player he had while he was in charge at Buxton last season.

Phillips says the 29 years old Sephton is “gutted he hasn’t been able to play” after making his final Warrington appearance in the 3-2 win against Matlock on March 10.

“He’s a great lad, one for next season, he can give us an edge and has many strings to his bow, initially he’d have been ideal had we played with Spencer Harris and Luke Dean suspended. He’s the type of lad that the fans will like. But the Coronavirus issue obviously dominates everything at the minute and we’ll have to see where we are as a club financially. Hopefully we’ll get some good luck next season that we haven’t had this time,. We need to see what happens with regard to the pre season and next season, some lads will fall by the wayside but the nucleus of our group is good and I have no doubts we’d have been okay. But the league doesn’t lie, we need to add some quality and at some point when the time’s right, we need to sit down as a club and sort things out financially for the implications of what’s happened will be massive for a lot of clubs. We don’t need to pay vast amounts of money, it’s about getting lads proud to wear that shirt. I’ll be talking to players, we want to give the Matlock fans something to cheer and enjoy.”

Reflecting on what has been a strange and deflating season, Phillips emphasised his admiration in the way everyone at the club had handled the obstacles placed before them.

“I’m very proud to be manager at Matlock Town, other clubs would have fallen by the wayside and not handled all of the issues we’ve had to face. It’s appeared as if everything’s been against us but on and off the field we’ve stood up and been counted and everyone should be really proud of the way they’ve handled things.”

Ian Richardson