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How has the Coronavirus Pandemic affected English Football League and National League clubs, players, fans and livelihood?

By Chay Saggers

How has the Coronavirus Pandemic affected English Football League and National League clubs, players, fans and livelihood?

The Coronavirus pandemic has played a huge part on everybody’s life. Loss of family, changes to day to day life such as social distancing and working from home are some of the many changes to everyone’s lives.

The first positive case of Coronavirus was back in December 2019 in Wuhan City, China where the first symptoms of COVID-19 was found. Prime Minister, Boris Johnson put all Britons into the first lockdown in the late stages on March 2020. This meant everything including shops, activity centres and Football clubs had to come to a close for the safety of everybody.

While many of the Premier League clubs have been able to ride out this difficult period due to their financial positions, many English Football League Clubs (EFL) have found this pandemic life-changing as seismic changes have been made to lower league clubs to be able to deal with this pandemic.

In December 2020, the Premier League and the EFL reached an agreement to give a rescue package to struggling clubs in the lower division of English football. The package included a 250 million pound deal to aid these struggling clubs. League One clubs were given a minimum of £375,000 and League Two clubs were given at least £250,000 with the remaining 15 million distributed to clubs who have lost money through gate revenue. This allowed these clubs to pay their players and all members of staff during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic some clubs in the EFL have struggled to stay afloat and be financially stable. For example, Derby county have had a 20 million pound in lost revenue and had been deducted 21 points in the 2021/22 Championship season after attempting to sell Pride Park which breached EFL ruling.

Another one is Bury Football club who have been expelled from League One because of their takeover bid from C&N Sporting Risk had fallen through. So people connected to the club had to start from scratch. Owners had to restart the club again with the new name of Bury AFC where they play their games down in the North West Counties League. Bury’s old home ground Gigg Lane is no longer in use and Bury AFC play at a new ground called Stainton Park in Radcliffe.

But for Stevenage Town Football Club, things were made easier through their brilliant sponsorship deals with Burger King and Prime Gaming which they have signed over the recent few years.
In 2019, the club signed a two-year deal with Burger King to become their shirt sponsors. Since then Stevenage have become the most played team on EA Sports’ video games series FIFA and have increased their replica shirt sales by 300%. Not bad for a League 2 club! Alex Tunbridge said how he “didn’t expect how much of an impact this deal would be across the world.”

“To turn a small club in real life to the biggest online is a major achievement”, CEO Alex Tunbridge explained happily.

The Boro have become one of the richest sides in Sky Bet League Two after how well the Burger King deal has hit. People from all around the globe know about this deal and has brought massive amounts of attention to the football club.

For the 2021/22 season, Stevenage signed another shirt sponsor deal with another huge company in Prime Gaming. After hitting the highs with the Burger King deal, Stevenage are looking to “reach a new level” after signing this brilliant sponsorship deal.

Not only did Stevenage sign these huge sponsorship deals they also completed many tasks in the community to help everyone connected with the club. I spoke to Stevenage Football Club CEO Alex Tunbridge who told me about the many changes that he made for the club so that they could stay afloat during this torrid period of time. “During the pandemic we closed the club and all staff worked on a large care line package. We delivered over 100 sandwiches to the community everyday. Ran a chat line. Collected prescriptions for the community. Everybody included from myself (Alex Tunbridge) to all the first team players and staff and also office workers all worked as one to fulfil the communities needs.” Stevenage have really proved they are a community driven club and wanted to help those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the 15th of May 2020, the clubs of League Two voted to end the season and decide positions based on a points per game system. Stevenage at this point sat rock bottom in the Sky Bet League 2 table where they were on the verge of being relegated to the National League alongside Macclesfield Town. But luckily for them, as a result of Bury’s expulsion from League 2, the London based club survived the drop and were solidified into the League 2 campaign for the following season. Macclesfield were the only side to be relegated that season because of their inability to pay their players.

Wrexham Association Football Club were also another club in the lower leagues who coped very well in the Coronavirus pandemic due to having new owners take over the club. Hollywood film stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney injected a huge amount of their own money into the club which massively helped the clubs’ financial difficulties due to the pandemic. 2 million was reportedly distributed to the club to start the 2021/22 National League campaign.

"This is the third-oldest club on the planet and we don't see why it can't have a global appeal," said Reynolds. "We want Wrexham to be a global force."

The Welsh side finished second in the 2021/22 National League campaign and also reached the FA Trophy final. It turned out to be a bitter-sweet ending to the season for the Dragons as they lost out in both fixtures at Wembley which see them fail to gain promotion to Sky Bet League Two and grab themselves the second biggest trophy in Non-league football.

The aim of the Hollywood stars is to get Wrexham Football club challenging for glory and back into the English Football League. Since Reynolds and McElhenny’s takeover, Wrexham have become the first ever Non-League football club to be placed into EA Sports’ video game series on FIFA 22.

Watch the Welcome to Wrexham docuseries on Disney+ by clicking on the link to see what has happened since Reynolds and McElhenney took over the club.


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