Stephen Cleeve: A big thank you to Norfolk football fans

King's Lynn Town midfielder Alfie Payne v Wealdstone

Alfie Payne on his second Linnets debut, at Wealdstone in midweek - Credit: Ian Burt

The good news and the bad news about running a football club is that nothing stands still for very long.

In the National League, two managers sadly lost their jobs this week - Tim Flowers, who had been at Barnet for a matter of weeks, and Jimmy Shan of Solihull Moors. Clearly the directors of these clubs felt, notwithstanding the unusual nature of the season, that both these teams should be doing far better than they actually are. 

Barnet boss Tim Flowers

Tom Flowers, who has parted company with struggling Barnet - Credit: Ian Burt

Vanarama agreed a new three-year sponsorship deal for the National League, which must be something of a coup to increase both the revenue from the TV deal with BT Sport (I understand they will be showing twice the number of games on TV next season) and the value of the sponsorship of the league in this tough climate. 

I am already behind with organising the design of our home and away kits for next season, a task that I find equally rewarding and frustrating. Once completed I always feel a sense of satisfaction, but not being a designer by trade, it is not something that comes easily to me. Rob Back, our director of football, often helps out, but at the moment he is recuperating and needs rest and of course everyone at the club wishes him a speedy recovery. 

I have been humbled over the last couple of weeks by the £300 pledges that we have received to help the club over this very difficult period. Canaries fans have really rallied to our cause and I was amazed that even Norwich fans that have never been to a game at The Walks were happy to help with not insignificant donations. I would like to personally thank every single Norfolk football fan for their kind gifts which has hugely helped the club. We are certainly not out of the woods yet, but these gestures are an enormous help. I would also like to thank Norwich City. Even though they have their own issues to contend with, including their promotion push back to the Premier League, they have found the time to put a helpful arm around us. The football family really does exist. 
 
Our own squad is looking threadbare at the moment, but often you find a hidden strength in adversity. Several players have been furloughed, but only four of these players are fit and the rest could not have played anyway as they are injured. Norwich City legend Simeon Jackson has joined us, as has Alfie Payne, who played a big part in last season’s promotion, and others will no doubt follow. These players are not at Lynn for the money and are literally playing for the love of the game and we are very grateful for them in doing so. 
 

Kairo Mitchell in action for King's Lynn Town at Wealdstone

Kairo Mitchell in action for King's Lynn Town against Wealdstone - Credit: Ian Burt


The effects of Covid, I fear, will be felt for some years at all levels of the football pyramid. There is no doubt that most clubs have had to take on debt to be able to play this season and I am sure that player wages will be reduced, especially at the lower footballing levels going forward. Indeed, just this week I was sent a contract for a talented 21-year-old player in League Two who has been offered £400 a week next season as a full-time footballer, so a reality check on wages may well be coming. 
 
Some onlookers were surprised that King’s Lynn Town did not stop playing football as I had been saying for some weeks that we would have to stop playing after the Weymouth game. Sands shifted on a daily basis and with it potential outcomes. If we had stopped playing and other clubs had not followed suit the chances of relegation were higher, so we needed to band together with other clubs.

There were several that were interested, but eventually they felt the relegation risk too high and dropped out. Dover, the only club in the National League to stop playing, have been charged, but their case has yet to be heard and for reasons unknown has been pushed back again to next week.

The National League North and South had voted to stop, but the league were then hit with legal papers from several clubs, spearheaded by Dorking, that wanted to continue. The threats were withdrawn and a concept of both leagues amalgamating for one half of a season and everyone playing each other just once with two promotion places up for grabs was agreed upon between the dissenting clubs. This was being considered by the Alliance committee with their recommendations being sent to the FA council for approval. 
  
If this concept is approved, it will either mean relegating 20pc of the National League next season or relegating at least one club from the league this season. If you add to the mix the possibility of a points deduction as punishment for not finishing the season, I simply decided that the risks were too high. 

We had to find a way to reduce costs, raise money and stay in the game. Prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed that fans will be allowed back into the stadium during May, which means that our last game against Aldershot should have 2,000 fans in the stadium (although oddly Aldershot contacted the club this week to ask if we would reverse the fixtures; it was probably the quickest decision I made all week).

The match will bring in some much-needed revenue and add to the mix some streaming revenue, although we still have a significant playing and travel budget to fund; the other costs would mainly need to be paid if we were playing or not. Some of that gap has been made so much easier by Norwich and King’s Lynn fans and so it is the fans that need to be thanked for hopefully ensuring that the club will be able to open the turnstiles for fans to finally be able to watch National League football next season. They certainly deserve it.


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