Following the latest Coronavirus statement from the EFL, issued on Monday morning [16 March], chief executive Nigel Clibbens gave us a further club update as Carlisle United Football Club continues the process of adapting its operations as it reacts to the issues which are emerging in the short and longer-term.
“This is an unprecedented set of circumstances with many improbable but high impact events happening at the same time,” he said. “This accelerates and multiplies the problems we all face.
“We are being both proactive, and reactive, as the advice we receive comes in, events move on, and as the situation requires us to do so at a club level.
“This situation is highly complex with a huge amount of uncertainties, and elements that are simply totally unknown at this point.
“We have seen, for example, that recent data has proved to be significantly understating the number of UK cases. We can build models and plan, but all that is reliant on the assumptions we make.
“Making decisions based on past or similar experience, or on what we think we know, is very high risk in this instance. In these circumstances, if we wait for evidence of what is right, events will have moved on again.
“That is why in my view we must act fast and, if necessary, be prepared to be criticised for overreacting. We will continue to take and make decisions in the best interests of our club, its staff and supporters using this approach.”
“As of this morning, as planned last week, we have reduced the staff on site as far as possible and are supporting those able to work remotely. Our systems ensure that staff are available to deal with ticket or phone enquiries as normal. All non-essential meetings are being rescheduled or hosted online.
“Player areas at the club were cleaned thoroughly last Wednesday, and again on Friday, and there are plans to repeat that again in the next few days (even though the players have been away since Tuesday).
“Following the training break over the weekend, Chris Beech has a schedule for his players and staff in mind. This included a training session today [held off site] and will include a return to using facilities at Brunton Park later in the week.
“Every club is taking its own view on what to do in the shutdown period. Some clubs are self-isolating, with a total player lockdown for a week or longer (even when they have no cases or symptoms). Of course, Chris will be continually reviewing that as he monitors the situation.
“We are taking a precautionary approach regarding staff and players, and anyone feeling even slightly ill is staying away from the club. We have no cases, or have had no people showing symptoms of the virus, but we have a very small number of players who have reported other minor general illness. As a precaution we have agreed their requests to stay away, as both we and they monitor their own situations.
“All academy activities have ceased and the academy staff have suspended all training and games programmes until 3 April, as advised by the EFL. This includes the under-18 age group.
“The Blues store will operate between 10am and 3pm on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and will be closed on Wednesdays and Sundays. This will be reviewed every day as we go on from here.
“For the ticket office and the Blues Store, we ask that business is done online, by email or by phone, where at all possible. Fans can make online shop purchases and items will be despatched as normal.
“This will assist us in reducing the amount of physical contact as we continue the process of social distancing. The telephone line is operating as normal for direct enquiries.
“We have taken the decision to suspend all activities in the Neil Sports Centre until further notice. Again, this is an extremely busy facility, with a quick turnaround of visitors who use the indoor pitch and changing rooms. We are sorry for the disruption – but we are sure you understand the need for us to take this action.
“We have worked closely with the Carlisle United Community Sports Trust, who also use our facilities, and they have ceased all on-site community activities with immediate effect. They are reviewing their in-school activities in line with school operations.
“Looking further forward, the end of season dinner [scheduled for Sunday 26 April at the Halston Hotel] is under review. Following the postponement of the Fans’ Forum this coming Friday, we have to say that, regrettably, at this stage it looks inevitable that the end of season dinner will go the same way.”
Impact of game postponements
“The suspension of fixtures has an immediate and significant impact on all clubs’ finances. For every club, match ticket income, commercial, retail and other matchday income (lottery, programmes, etc) stops.
“Football club costs are very fixed, so payments still need to be made. As we saw with Bury, most clubs are already reliant on external funding. Where this funding comes from other third-party businesses – if the ability to give support is reduced, the risks to clubs escalates.
“The first big financial challenge for clubs is coming fast – on Friday – with PAYE payments due to HMRC, quickly followed by end of month salary bills. We already know there will be no games before that date.
“A number of clubs have faced liquidation proceedings by HMRC, even in normal times, such is the ongoing fragility of football finances. That action comes quickly. After taking steps to protect players, staff and fans in their community by suspending games (under the instruction of EFL), the risk is more clubs (having minimal cash coming in) then face liquidation hearings in early April ... unless there is a change in HMRC policy, or more financial support to clubs. That is an immediate challenge for the EFL and Government, as well as for individual clubs. We are all in this together and we need to work together.
“I know our fans will be concerned as to how that affects us, Carlisle United. Following well documented changes to our own financial approach, along with recent player sales, we are fortunate to have our own cash cushion to deal with a limited short-term disruption and guaranteed football fortune in the summer months. Many clubs will not be in our position, even in the coming weeks.
“However, we are moving towards our vital season ticket selling period for the 2020/21 season, and to the period where we secure new commercial deals. The cash from those activities is still absolutely critical to our finances over the summer closed season, and beyond – despite player sales.
“The support we have in normal times is exceptional, but we are not in those times now. How our fans and business supporters react to the impact of the uncertainty when deciding whether to buy and support in 2020/21 is totally unknown. Indeed, how it impacts on their own finances and ability to support is unknown. This a major concern.
“As the delay continues, and on top of all that, practical matters also start to impact. Transfer windows, player contract expiry, loans ending, pitch work, planned summer events at clubs, the list goes on and all are affected.”
“Putting all of this together, it’s obvious the club faces a very volatile and unpredictable period. As for the wider community, we are stronger when united and working together.
“There is a UEFA meeting tomorrow, an EFL board meeting on Wednesday, and a Premier League meeting on Thursday, so there will be further developments. The pyramid structure means decisions at the top of the game at Premier League level will ripple down right through the professional game, and into League Two.
“As I said on Friday, speculation about what happens next in terms of the football season is exactly that. Since then there has been a lot of opinion expressed, as is normal in football, and as expected we have seen the ‘planting of flags’ saying ‘what is best.’
“In my view, at a time like this, more than ever, those inside the game all need to look beyond narrow vested interests towards what is best for the whole professional game.
“Just as individuals are having to do exceptional things and look beyond what they personally want, and do what’s needed, we need to do the same, and show real solidarity and support for each other, and the game.
“We will update further when we have more to report, in particular after the EFL meeting later this week.”