Poppies could weather the storm, says owner Jeune

Kettering Town owner Ritchie Jeune has spoken out with the start date of the National League North season hanging in the balance

By Jon Dunham
Wednesday, 23rd September 2020, 11:37 am
Updated Wednesday, 23rd September 2020, 11:38 am
Kettering Town owner Ritchie Jeune. Picture by Peter Short
Kettering Town owner Ritchie Jeune. Picture by Peter Short

Kettering Town owner Ritchie Jeune believes the club are in the fortunate position to be able to “weather the storm” if the National League North season is suspended or begins behind closed doors.

However, when asked for his guess on what will happen over the next 24 hours with the National League Board set to meet tomorrow (Thursday), the Poppies owner admitted he expects the season to be suspended until fans are allowed to attend.

The National League season, which is due to kick-off with the second qualifying round of the Emirates FA Cup a week on Saturday (October 3) has been thrown into chaos following the announcement of new restrictions from the Government in response to the surge in Coronavirus cases.

Among them was the fact that fans will not be phased back into sports stadia at ‘elite’ level from October 1 as had been originally planned.

With the National League and North and South divisions falling into that ‘elite’ category, the options for starting the season now come down to starting behind closed doors with matches being streamed or for it to be suspended until fans can return.

And, when asked what he thinks might happen, Jeune replied: “My personal opinion is that they will suspend the league until we can have fans back. I think that’s the only rational thing for them to do.

“There is the streaming option but not everyone wants to watch a game on a stream. We have streamed before and, although we were successful with it, the only real guarantee you have is your season ticket holders.

“We can’t run a season just based on our season ticket money, it requires more than that.

“But I don’t see any other choice unless there is some sort of Government support but, again, I am not sure how the Government can afford to do that.

“It’s not just us, it’s sports like rugby and others.

“The whole ‘we’re elite’ which is something Kettering as a club never agreed that we are elite at the level we’re at, has come back to bite people on the butt.”

Regardless of which route the National League Board decide to take, it’s inevitable that clubs’ resources will be stretched almost to the brink.

And Jeune conceded the Poppies had been “lucky” to some extent that they were able to protect themselves in the current climate when it came to negotiating deals with new players over the summer.

“It’s difficult,” he explained.

“You have clubs like ourselves who have got people who are on old contracts and new contracts and on those new contracts we have put clauses on there to protect us against another lockdown and not being able to play.

“If a player plays in a game, whether it’s streamed or behind closed doors, then he is entitled to his salary. So some clubs like us are quite firm one way or another.

“If we play with fans or we don’t then it’s not really too difficult of a situation for us to manage whereas other clubs might have more contracted players on older style contracts without clauses will be desperate to play at any cost because they have to pay that player.

“There are emails going around between club secretaries, chairmen and owners and you are starting to understand which clubs are financially at risk with not playing and which ones can probably weather the storm if fans are not allowed in.

“Since we took over, we have invested in things and this summer we have invested in ground improvements and we have been very tight on how we manage our playing budget.

“David (club chairman Mahoney) is very good at making sure we don’t overstretch ourselves and we don’t give out a lot of contracts. There is a set criteria the manager would have to meet before we sign off on a contract for a player.

“A lot of contracted players left us last year and the timing allowed us to add clauses to the new contracts which have probably given us a bit of breathing space.

“That was probably more down to luck. We were lucky that a number of players didn’t renew their contracts and the new guys coming in have accepted the clauses we have put in place.

“We were lucky in that respect and other clubs are just in a different cycle when it comes to contracted players.

“Players who are due payments, that has to come from somewhere. And, whether you’re in National League North or League One, you need gates because they are the biggest source of income.”