08:00AM, Friday 27 November 2020
Joint manager Neil Baker has described the tier 3 restrictions imposed on Slough as a kick in the teeth for the club and its supporters.
Slough is one of only a handful of areas in the South East of England - along with Kent and Medway - to be placed in the very highest level of coronavirus restrictions.
While rivals elsewhere in the county will welcome supporters back into their grounds from the middle of next week, the Rebels will continue hosting matches behind closed doors.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that supporters could return to grounds in lower risk areas earlier this week, with clubs in tier 1 areas able to admit up to 4,000 fans – or 50 per cent of their capacity, whichever is lower, while clubs in tier 2 areas are able to admit 2,000 or 50 per cent of their capacity.
Just a few miles down the A4 in Maidenhead the Magpies will be hoping to play in front of their supporters later in December.
Reflecting on the news just moments after it was announced yesterday (Thursday), Baker said: “It’s a nightmare for the club and any club involved that’s in tier 3.
“I’m gutted. Yes, we’ll be able to go to other places where other fans will be there, but as a club, from the point of finances, it’s a real kick in the teeth.
“I’m quite surprised by the number of places that are in tier 3. I think it’s going to have a massive knock on effect in non-league football because a lot of clubs affected haven’t had Government grants or National Lottery grants. They’re not going to be able to play behind closed doors. They’re not going to be able to play without fans.
“I don’t see how the leagues below ours are going to be able to fulfil their fixtures properly because maybe half the sides can play, and half the sides can’t because they won’t be able to afford it. I think it’s going to be a nightmare.”
Slough expect they’ll have funding from the Lottery to see them through to the end of December, however, no further grant aid has been confirmed – despite last week’s announcement that £11m had been earmarked for clubs in step 1 and 2. Baker doesn’t like the option of the club taking on loans to see them through the remainder of the campaign. That, he said, would simply be kicking the can down the road.
“From our point of view, we don’t know how long we’re going to be in this position where we can’t have any fans at all,” he said. “The funding for the National League clubs is through until the end of December, which is only four weeks away.
“I know for a fact we won’t be able to keep going as we are with no money or funding coming in. It’s an uncertain time. It’s a nightmare and I think a lot of this could have been foreseen at the start of the season. I’ve said all along this (virus) will cause carnage in football and this is just making it worse.”
On the possibility of the club receiving further financial help after Christmas, Baker added: “I know they said there would be funding in place, but that’s in the form of loans.
“Why would you, as a club, take out a loan just to kick the can down the road. It would be ridiculous for us to do that and I don’t see why we would take out loans to see out a season when we can’t get that money back. I don’t know what we’ll do but it’s not a decision for myself or Jon to make.”
Above everything – including even the club’s financial concerns - Baker is disappointed for Rebels fans who won’t be able to see the side play at home until the R rate (infection rate) comes down sufficiently for the area to be returned to tier 2. He added it was ‘soul destroying’ for the management team and players to play matches without them, calling it box ticking exercise that ‘no one signed up for’.
“It’s bitterly disappointing from the point of view of the fans,” he said. “Does it make it a level playing field? No, it doesn’t because you’ve now got clubs who will have the funding in place until the end of December and they’ll also get the revenue of fans coming in.
“This kills us really. I think Maidstone and Dartford are included in this as well. It’s a bitter blow. It’s not entirely unexpected because I’ve seen bits and pieces coming out from Slough Borough Council but it’s soul destroying because we just want to play in front of fans.
“Being behind closed doors is not what we signed up to do. It feels like boxing ticking to be honest. We want to be doing what we do in front of fans. The longer this goes on the more chance there is of losing fans to other clubs or for other habits to form. It’s a nightmare really.”
He added: “At our level we’re okay until the end of December because of this Government grant, but can we continue playing beyond December I don’t know? What about clubs at steps three and below. Are Chalvey Sports going to want to play matches behind closed doors? They might only get 80 people through the gates but that’s enough to get them over the line. There are so many anomalies.
“What’s going to happy with the FA Trophy, if several sides can’t play in it because of not having fans.”
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