Southern League clubs have faced a year like no other in 2020 but help could soon be at hand thanks to the Trident Community Foundation.
Pitching In Southern League clubs such as AFC Rushden & Diamonds, Corby Town, Banbury United, Kings Langley, Biggleswade Town, Bedford Town, Biggleswade FC and Aylesbury United now have the chance to apply for grants of up to £5,000 to help establish community-focused projects with the aim of developing young talent, promoting non-league football to a wider audience and attracting volunteers.
The Trident Community Foundation has been founded by a combination of Entain’s grassroots sport investment programme, Pitching In, and the three Trident Leagues – The Isthmian, Northern Premier and Southern Leagues.
Entain, owner of Ladbrokes and Coral, has donated £150,000 to establish the TCF Fund for distribution over the remainder of the 2020/21 season and the project has the firm backing of Pitching In ambassador Stuart Pearce.
“Initiatives like this are close to my heart as I am proud of my non-league background,” said Pearce, who began his career with Wealdstone before going on to win 78 England caps.
“Non-league clubs are the hubs of their communities and people have connections to these clubs going back generations. Bringing people together, especially in these fractured times, is vitally important and initiatives such as this will help do that.
“The timing is absolutely spot on. The true mark of help is when people really need it – and the football community at this level really needs it.
“I look forward to seeing the projects that get off the ground as a result of the Trident Community Foundation.”
Following a simple application process, potential projects will be reviewed by the TCF board – which will be chaired by David Emery, editor-in-chief of The Non-League Paper and consists of three Trident League chairmen and two Entain representatives.
Anthony Hughes, vice-chairman of the Pitching in Southern League, is part of the TCF board and hailed “the most exciting news we have had in some time.”
“I can’t think of any time in our level of the game where it has been more appropriate to launch an initiative like the TCF Fund,” Hughes said.
“I know of numerous Southern League clubs who are waiting with bated breath for those application forms to arrive, so we look forward to receiving their ideas.
“It enables our clubs to have support and funding that is desperately needed at a level of the game that is often forgotten. Our clubs are the lifeblood of their local communities in terms of bringing people together and creating facilities for people of all ages to enjoy.
“No other country has a football pyramid like ours and it’s sponsorships like Pitching In, and initiatives like the Trident Community Foundation, which allow that to continue.”
With a mission statement of ‘no project too small’, grants will be capped at £5,000 in the first year of the TCF Fund but there are hopes this could rise in the future with the aid of additional investment.
Pitching In spokesperson Simon Clare said: “We are thrilled that Pitching In is to be a founding partner of the Trident Community Foundation, along with the Trident leagues.
“We put this money in place to support the dreams, visions and plans of many clubs. We are open to all ideas and we can’t wait to see their plans.”
Trident Community Foundation chairman David Emery said: “I am very honoured and proud to have been asked to chair the TCF Fund board.
“I started covering non-league football at my local paper when I was 17 and it is the bedrock of our sport.
“The timing is perfect and we hope the leagues will start kicking off again very soon. Once they do so, the clubs can look forward with some optimism and these grants will help that.”
The Footballl Association, meanwhile, have confirmed that there can now be a "limited return of home spectators" at clubs in Steps 3 to 6 if they are situated in Tier 3 areas.
Clubs at all levels in Tier 3 had previously been told they must play behind closed doors, which led to the Trident League clubs voting in favour of a continued pause of the season.
However, that could now change in light of the latest update from the FA.
The statement said: "We have today received approval from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) for a limited return of home spectators to be permitted at clubs competing in the National League System (NLS), Women’s Football Pyramid (WFP)and Buildbase FA Vase if they are situated in Tier 3 areas.
"We have worked continuously alongside the DCMS, Sports Grounds Safety Authority and leagues to gain approval and clubs competing in Steps 3-6 of the NLS, Tiers 3-6 of the WFP and Buildbase FA Vase that are situated in Tier 3 areas are now permitted to accommodate home spectators up to 15 per cent of their ground grading capacity in line with Stage 1 of our respective guidelines for the NLS or WFP.
"A limited return of home spectators up to 15 per cent of their ground grading capacity will also be permitted in the Buildbase FA Trophy if the fixture is between two ‘non-elite’ clubs (clubs at Steps 3-4 of the NLS) in a Tier 3 area.
"All fixtures in the Buildbase FA Trophy that involve an ‘elite club’ (clubs at Steps 1-2 of the NLS) in a Tier 3 area must remain behind closed doors in line with the UK Government’s return to ‘elite’ sport guidance.
"Prior to admitting spectators, clubs competing in Steps 3-6 of the NLS, Tiers 3-6 of the WFP, the Buildbase FA Trophy and Buildbase FA Vase that are situated in Tier 3 areas are strongly advised to liase with their respective Local Authority for agreement on capacity limits.
"It is extremely important that spectators remain in their household or social bubble in groups of six, do not mix with any other spectator groups, or travel between Tiers to attend fixtures, as enforceable by law. If breaches of spectator limits or social distancing are reported, clubs and leagues may face returning to fixtures being held behind closed doors.
"Under UK Government guidelines, bars, pubs, cafes and restaurants in Tier 3 areas must be closed, except to sell by takeaway or click-and-collect, and this remains the case for clubs competing in Steps 3-6 of the NLS, Tiers 3-6 of the WFP, the Buildbase FA Vase and Buildbase FA Trophy with clubhouses in Tier 3 areas.
"Clubs competing in Steps 3-6 of the NLS, Tiers 3-6 of the WFP, the Buildbase FA Vase and Buildbase FA Trophy that are situated in Tier 1 or 2 areas remain permitted to accommodate a phased and limited return of spectators if they continue to follow the UK Governments’ latest guidance on COVID-19 and our respective guidelines for the NLS or WFP.
"Regional NLS Feeder Leagues, Tier 7 of the WFP and outdoor grassroots football also remain permitted to accommodate socially-distanced spectators but must follow the UK Government’s ‘rule of six’ and guidance on restrictions in certain tiers."