Behind the scenes at Raynes Park Vale
Last week, we kicked off our non-league journey of the trials and tribulations of Raynes Park Vale. Having given some context around non-league, we gave a brief introduction to the club and our values in our semi-professional status. We also told you what to expect from the “Don’t let it bounce” series throughout the 2020/21 season. However, the truth is, nearly a month before the introduction article was published, our 2020/21 season had already begun.
The impact of COVID-19
It’s clear that COVID-19 has changed football for the foreseeable future – from the Premier League down to the 11th tier of English Football. Financial positions of clubs are under more scrutiny than ever before. However, some clubs have been affected more drastically than others. It’s been widely reported that Premier League clubs will experience a near £1bn shortfall in revenues in the 2019/20 season. EFL Chairman, Rick Parry, has highlighted a £200m cash “hole” left by the Coronavirus epidemic in the football league structure. Non-league football’s financial impact doesn’t quite reach the seismic levels of its seniors’, but has proved to be as threatening.
Matchday income (ticket, food & beverage sales) is broadly the most fundamental income stream to the lower league game. Although sponsorships might be the most lucrative, all revenue avenues quickly dry up with the absence of a paying fan. As a result, it’s easy to imagine that rumours of “spectator caps” (or even worse, bans) are the equivalent of a living nightmare for non-league football. At Raynes Park Vale, the Coronavirus epidemic has forced a particular drive from all our stakeholders. Especially when considering our troubled past, now is the time to come together to ensure sustainability.
The Raynes Park Vale turnaround
In the case of Raynes Park Vale, our troubles had been around long before this most recent epidemic. Under our previous owners, there were regular instances where the future of the club was in doubts. Fortunately, our clubs livelihood for the 2020/21 season has been secured. Underpinned by a successful fundraising campaign and the generous donations of the Raynes Park community, we’ve been able to raise the necessary funds to keep our lights on. These funds cover nearly 30% of the club’s committed expenditure for the season; most of these expenses being rent, electricity and key maintenance.
The gravity of our fundraising cannot be underestimated. After all, it was less than 8 months ago that the club found itself in hot water with the league following a failed lighting test. It was proved that not even the most fundamental maintenance was performed under our previous owners. Postponed fixtures, crucial cup matches moved to the opposition’s ground, and earlier kick off times were the price to pay.
Not only has the club found a lifeline from a financial perspective, but the first team players and committee have come to the party too. Having being left untouched for nearly three months, socially distant work has been undertaken at our home ground by our volunteers. Tirelessly working the labours of the land, the players and committee have been stellar. With the assistance of £1,500 from the FA, even our groundsman has managed to begin his summer makeover of the pitch. It’s now more than ever that we can see the stark contracts between our reality and those experienced by the professionals. However, we wouldn’t change a thing as our work is testament to the community driven purpose of the non-league system.
Preparing for the non-league season
Three weeks following our first efforts, the ground is starting to look ready for the return of football. Not only have nature’s brambles been removed off the touchline, but attention has been given to our clubhouse too. Remember the story from the previous article where an opposition player got a yellow card for his explicit description of the club? Well, being fair to the player, it was only until last week that the away changing rooms had heads for the showers. The bar has been refurbished. The women’s toilets have been replaced, and, considering the fact we’re probably well overdue for a health and safety inspection, even our dugout’s wobbly nature has been fixed.
Down at Raynes Park Vale, we’re looking to not only improve the experience for our matchday visitors but our virtual following too. With a new digital strategy and a commitment to The Football Pink & its followership, the Vale experience is planned to be made available to all. A newly launched website and the commitment to produce digital programmes, are just some of first steps for the new season.
Looking forward to pre-season
Whilst the stage is being prepared, the players are looking forward to swapping their garden shovels for a pair of football boots. You can see the longing on the players faces each time they walk past the pitch to tend to the weeds. Our manager has put all pre-season plans on hold until there’s a bit more clarity. But with the FA expected to give an indication as to an estimate start date imminently, pre-season is expected to begin anytime now. Judging by the pitch side conversations, there’s a common perception that everyone is fit, but our captain’s inability to pull-start a hedge trimmer highlights that strength is sometimes more important than a sub 22min 5km run.
It has been an interesting time to be a part of Raynes Park Vale. At many times, it has been frustrating. At other times, it has been downright bizarre. However, these times are part and parcel of the non-league journey, and arguably provide a little more substance to the game on the pitch when you consider what’s performed off it. As was mentioned in the previous article, before the Coronavirus epidemic, football had been as lucrative as ever. It’s when you see the commercial façade of the English game that maybe the true value of a football club lies not in those with the money, but those that have been starved of it.