Poppies owner Jeune furious as National League funding crisis rumbles on

Kettering Town and their fellow National League North and South colleagues have been told their divisions have been suspended for the next two weeks.

Friday, 22nd January 2021, 1:46 pm
Updated Friday, 22nd January 2021, 1:49 pm
Kettering Town owner Ritchie Jeune. Picture by Peter Short

Kettering Town owner Ritchie Jeune has launched a stinging attack on the National League Board as the fiasco over the Winter Survival Package rumbles on.

The National League Board confirmed today (Friday) that the North and South divisions have been suspended for two weeks with immediate effect after they reviewed feedback from clubs this week.

It emerged recently that £11m of government funding to help Step 1 and 2 clubs through the next three months would be in the form of loans instead of grants like they had received through National Lottery funding in October, November and December.

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Clubs had been expecting grants rather than loans following discussions, which were held in a bid to get the season started without fans last year.

It prompted the National League to offer out three options to their clubs this week - the operation of a club loan process, the operation of a National League loan or the suspension of the season.

With a number of clubs expressing their anger at having to take on debt to complete a season, which will see no income with fans not allowed into grounds due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it seems the majority of teams in the North and South divisions were in favour of suspending the season to allow further time to find a way forward.

But, in an explosive interview, Jeune believes the National League Board’s hand was forced with a number of clubs already confirming they would not play this weekend.

And the Poppies owner believes that in any other walk of life, the Board members would have been “sacked” over the issue that has rocked the upper echelons of non-League football.

“The statement today still doesn’t answer the question of how clubs are going to fund themselves to the point,” Jeune said.

“You have still clubs that are potentially insolvent due to no fault of their own and that statement doesn’t tell me what I want to know as an owner of a club about what’s going to happen about the funding that was promised.

“That statement just tells you that clubs were not going to play this weekend and there was little choice for the league because clubs had already taken the decision.

“But the crucial fact over funding, whether it is grants or an option for loans, still remains unanswered and that’s the most important question.

“Obviously the board meeting today has not been constructive in moving that forward.

“You have got a situation where games have gone ahead and I am sure clubs have had coach costs, player costs and other running costs and there has been zero income in January.

“People talk about the money you make for streaming but trust me, at every level it’s a fraction of the gate you’d get. It’s not enough for any club to run itself on.

“So you’ve had clubs who have had much reduced income who would have expected the money they received in December to be available to them again in January and you are finding out a week before your ‘payday’ that that funding is no longer available to you. What are you supposed to do?

“Either owners will have to go in and put the money in in the short term while the league continues to play ‘he said, she said’ or clubs will have to call in administrators.

“The one thing I have tried to get across to people is that if you take football and the emotion that comes with it out of it, the government suspended some of the insolvency laws and pressures on directors to do things at the start of the pandemic but that stopped in September 2020.

“So now, as a director, you have legal obligations to run your business in a certain way and if you can’t pay creditors or negotiate with creditors to give you more time then you are insolvent.

“So you have clubs who are, on paper at this point, insolvent when none of them would have voted to start the league if they thought this was how it would have ended up.

“Somebody somewhere, at very best, has been incompetant verging on fraudulent.

“It’s an absolute disgrace that the board haven’t resigned en masse. There’s no statement of accountability. It’s all ‘we believed this and that’.

“Ultimately, this sits with the board of the league who have no shred of paper to back up what they told the clubs was, in effect, cast iron.

“If that was any other business, that board are getting fired. But football seems to be in this alternate universe where the laws of the land and the rules of governance don’t seem to count. It’s crazy.”