Cleeve: Behind-closed-doors a non-starter - and why I signed a new player for King’s Lynn Town during coronavirus suspension

King's Lynn Town owner Stephen Cleeve Picture: Ian Burt

King's Lynn Town owner Stephen Cleeve Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

Stephen Cleeve believes clubs like King’s Lynn Town would find it almost impossible to resume their season behind closed doors.

Linnets boss Ian Culverhouse Picture: Ian Burt

Linnets boss Ian Culverhouse Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

The Linnets owner is awaiting news from the National League as to what happens next following the indefinite suspension of matches due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The league have said matches are suspended indefinitely. What happens next in terms of promotion and relegation issues is unclear. The waters are muddied because the National League set-up feeds into the Football League which, in turn, feeds into the Premier League at the very top of the game – and until decisions are made higher up the food chain, teams at Lynn’s level will still be awaiting their fate.

There is one automatic promotion spot in National League North which is occupied by York City. Lynn are second, two points behind but with two games in hand.

There are two scenarios ahead: the suspension is lifted and the season is played out, over a time period yet to be decided, or the season is scrapped – and then a huge decision is to be made on whether results are expunged (as has happened on Steps 3-7) or they actually mean something.

King's Lynn Town owner Stephen Cleeve - behind closed doors game not an easy option Picture: Ian Bu

King's Lynn Town owner Stephen Cleeve - behind closed doors game not an easy option Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

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Cleeve believes the season cannot be bolted on to the 2020-21 campaign, as has been suggested by some, and that a behind closed doors ending is unlikely.

“I don’t think it is going to work for our league,” he said. “Would I do it if I had to? Yes, but most clubs are not affected by it. They would rather draw a line under the season - but to be then told you have got to play your next six games at home and you are not going to get a penny income in from them because you are not allowed anyone in the stadium, they are going to say ‘why one earth should I? That is a good point and I don’t dispute that, so I just can’t see that working out at our level.

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“It could work at level one and level two because they have the iFollow situation, but in my view I think the Premier League could play out, the Championship could play out – that is where the biggest financial risks and potential legal cases are.”

Don’t miss - frustrations of a player: Chris Henderson in his own wordsThen there is the prospect that this season will end completely – leaving the vexing question of whether results are expunged or a way of dealing with promotion and relegation issues is actually agreed. And this is where Cleeve has a firm view – and one that is not at all surprising given his team’s position.

Cleeve is an advocate of PPG – points per game – but knows the National League will have to wait and see what happens above, and that is complicated by much bigger financial and legal questions, with telephone number figures under discussion.

“There are only two things you can do – null and void or PPG,” said Cleeve.

“Most people aren’t affected because they aren’t going to get promoted or relegated. But why they should care is maybe next season it will affect them.

“I believe the only way it can be dealt with us PPG – the reason I believe that is it is the only way you can justify the season. I believe there should be a league rule made saying if we played less than 66pc of matches and the season is suspended for any reason then results are null and void. If more than 66pc of games have taken place it will be determined on a PPG basis and I am quite happy to do what rugby chiefs have done in their report recently where they went on PPG and balanced it up (home and away games).”

Such is the tangled ball of string that football has got itself into, there have been all sorts of alternative solutions put forward, including the convening of a pools panel to decide the outcome of matches and, therefore, final positions.

It is an idea quickly shot down by Cleeve: his own team are proof of its fallibility. Lynn were top from early September to early March and won only four points from their final four games. They went to in-form Gateshead and won, but a week later lost at home to bottom side Bradford Park Avenue.

“I think two consecutive games shows it can’t work,” he said. “If we all knew what was going to happen people would be multi-millionaires – and that is what keeps us interested in the game. Little clubs can beat big clubs. Norwich City can beat Manchester City, and did.”

New signing controversy

King’s Lynn Town bucked the national trend in a big way when they signed a new player.

The effects of the coronavirus pandemic have all but put transfers on unofficial hold.

Cleeve’s decision to sign Alex Brown from Buxton Town, for an undisclosed fee, drew criticism after he had asked for financial help from fans to steer the club through troubled financial waters.

But Cleeve insisted it was an opportunity he had to take.

“We are the only club who have done it as far as I know ,” he said. “It is a strange thing to do because you are asking fans for money because you are broke.

“Why did we sign Alex Brown? It is a really good point.

“I spoke to the manager. He didn’t ask me to sign him, he just mentioned to me he was available and he was good and I said, ‘how good?’, he said ‘very good’, and we believe he could be a Football League footballer. One or two clubs had a look from higher divisions and obviously because of this mess they decided it wasn’t right to act because they wanted to see how it all pans out.

“It required a bit of fortitude – I got a lot of stress from rival fans who said ‘what are you doing asking for money then buying a footballer?’, but they don’t really know how it has been done, how it has been structured and put together so knowing all the facts as I do it is a no-brainer. I was very pleased with the deal, I thought it was excellent. It was good timing – turn it round the other way – if we didn’t do that deal and in two months time this all becomes a blip and newspaper wrappers and we all forget about it, that player would probably not go to King’s Lynn, or it would have cost me a lot more.

“So it was a clever move to make it now, although I accept it is one that may not be seen that way by the vast majority of fans who don’t have access to all the facts.

“I am paid to make these big calls – sometime they are not the most popular calls, but popularity is not something I base my decision making on. Is it the right decision and is it the right thing for King’s Lynn Town Football Club? And I think it is personally, so that is why I did it.”

Stephen Cleeve was speaking on his podcast I Bought A Football Club

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