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Paul Doswell: Non-League football must learn lessons now

Paul Doswell Hawks play-offs

WAY FORWARD: Havant & Waterlooville boss Paul Doswell

Paul Doswell says Non-League football must brace itself for a tsunami of pain – and the Havant & Waterlooville boss hit out at the lack of equal voting rights for Step 2 clubs when it comes to deciding the season.

The experienced manager, who spent ten successful years at Sutton United before joining the Hawks last summer and is a successful businessman in his own right, is also urging authorities to get innovative through the coronavirus crisis that has left football on its knees.

Doswell says he worries for players who won’t have budgeted for severe cuts to wages in the future and is calling for football to have a major reset.

“It’s going to be like a tsunami coming in Non-League football – and League One and League Two,” Doswell told The NLP. “I can see it coming. Thousands of players are going to be released from League One, League Two and National League clubs. They are going to be desperate to get a club.

“My honest opinion is clubs will hardly be able to pay any wages. The days of Non-League players at the top level earning £700, £800, £900-a-week, they’re finished. The days of League One and Two players earning £2,000 and £1,500-a-week, finished. You’re talking a minimum of half the amount. I really hope players are budgeting for that.

“It has left us with zero income. At Havant we’ve got a chairman who runs a pub refurbishment company and has had to walk away from eight contracts. The other ten are on hold. He owns a brilliant restaurant a mile from the ground, that’s closed, and the football club is closed. So, even a club as well run as Havant – and it is very well run – has got no income.

“Every business will be trying to save their own business and trying to keep their employees in work. The first thing that will go is sponsorship. At our level we rely on it. You take £150,000 out of your turnover – and it won’t come back very quickly – is a big example of one of many issues for clubs.

“It’s a tsunami coming. It will hit in a massive wave. In the EFL, one chairman is saying he will release every player from contract. If any player wants to go to court, good luck to them. Players are in the weakest position since Jimmy Hill sorted the maximum wage cap.

“What it’s proving is football is a house of cards. How can it be after only maybe a month or six weeks that a business collapses that quickly? I can’t emphasise enough how much everything is going to change.”

The 2019-20 National League season has now been cancelled by way of club vote before the next phase of decisions for how promotion and relegation should be resolved, or not.

Doswell thinks the voting weight towards Step 1 clubs is unfair and also criticised how the advanced solidarity payment from the Premier League is divided.

He said: “It’s not fair the National League get 24 votes and the North and South get eight between them. If it’s democratic and everyone’s in it together, how on earth can 68 member clubs not have the same voting rights.

“It’s a fact people will vote with self-interest. It’s being proven now.

“We all feel if we are all in it together, why don’t the National League spread the payment between all 68 clubs?

“Havant get £13,000. Of that £13,000 about £4,000 gets clawed back for sponsorship kits and Celtic Manor dos.

“How can the board not look at it and say, ‘Tell you what, we’re all in it together, for one year, to help all the clubs out, we’ll spread it’? The £30,000 each is about what it would be. They wouldn’t have even thought to have done that.

“The other thing is, why give it to clubs now when all it is going to do is give them another cash-flow problem in September? It’s kicking the problem down the road.”

He added: “The leadership from the National League has been woeful. Why aren’t those clubs equal? How wrong is it that each club doesn’t have an equal vote on such an important issue?”

Doswell also echoed criticism that Non-League clubs at Step 1 and 2 are receiving just £2m of a £125m solidarity advance from the Premier League while clubs below have, so far, received nothing.

“This is where I’m praying people support Non-League because this is just showing how everything is geared around the Premier League and that horrible thing called money,” he said. “I don’t care if people like or don’t like the view, but why should Brian Barwick be thanking them for an early payment? If every club got £200,000 each  – which is about £13.5m – that would see most clubs through this four or five-month period. And it is going to be as long as that. Even if we start again in two months, it’s going to take five or six months for clubs to get back on their feet.

“That’s a pittance to the Premier League. Instead of paying their outgoing chief executive £5m, why didn’t they keep a fund ready for something like this. That would go along way for us. And clubs below us don’t even get anything!”

Doswell is confident sponsorship streams will eventually return and thinks it won’t be a bad thing if football has a period of self-reflection when dealing with the aftermath of the crisis.

“It’s going to be huge but did it need a reset anyway?” Doswell said. “We’ve all had to keep doing it – at Sutton we had to keep up with the Joneses or you got left behind.

“Is it time for a reset? Is it right a Non-League player training two nights a week can earn £600? Probably not, if the truth be known.

“I think there is a huge reset coming for everybody. Maybe it will make teams on more of a level playing field. The survival of football clubs will be based around virtually not paying any wages. That’s the only way clubs will survive.

“There will be a bounce back, there will be. That’s the positive thing. Sponsors will eventually come back. It’s almost going to be a season of lessons we have to learn. So if something like this happens again we’re not all in a position after six weeks of no trading that we all almost go into administration or collapse. The way to do that is have much tighter controls on salaries and things like that.”

As part of a rethink, Doswell says the game should use the chance to address other big issues to breathe new life into football in this country.

“It’s obvious to me and anyone else who knows anything about business and football that the business plan is flawed that this many clubs are in this much trouble already.”


First appeared in The NLP on Sunday, April 19

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