EFL owner, manager and player share harsh realities of coronavirus

‘There will be an earthquake this summer’: As the EFL teeters on the brink of a huge financial crisis, an owner, a manager and a player share the harsh realities of life in the lower leagues under coronavirus lockdown – SPECIAL REPORT

  • The EFL have consistently said they intend to finish the current campaign
  • Chairman Rick Parry said on Tuesday the season needs to be over by July 31
  • Peterborough owner Darragh MacAnthony says EFL needs private investment 
  • Bristol City boss Lee Johnson wants the season to resume whenever it is safe 
  • Swindon striker Eoin Doyle will only return once assurances are made 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

The devastating impact of coronavirus has left the EFL staring at financial Armageddon, with grave fears that clubs will vanish into thin air.

As an earthquake rumbles through the game, Sportsmail caught up with an owner, a player and a manager across the three divisions to shine a light on their lockdown experience, and hopes and fears for the future.

OWNER 

Darragh MacAnthony (Peterborough United) 

MacAnthony has been chairman of Peterborough since 2006 and owner since 2007. His club are sixth in League One and three points behind an automatic promotion spot.

This theory that clubs are days away from going out of business is incorrect. July and August is when clubs will go out of business.

Darragh MacAnthony has been chairman of Peterborough since 2006 and owner since 2007

Right now they are bouncing bills and debts down the road but you’re going to have an earthquake in July and August. You’ll have outstanding bills including tax and deferred wages that I estimate will vary at each club from £800,000 to £2million.

On top of that, the summer is not the prettiest time financially with no gate receipts. Now you’re going to have that — plus all the deferred money and bills on top. It is going to be catastrophic.

If there is no help — and we need help — come September 50 per cent of League One and Two clubs will be cashflow dry and will have to apply for administration. I don’t see any billionaire owners to bail them out.  

There is a solution. I wrote to (EFL chairman) Rick Parry, who I am a big fan of. I told him that we need to bring in a private investor who will give us a £200m fund which should see us through for the time being.

That fund is managed by the EFL and we pay back eight per cent interest, which is more than the banks are offering. The EFL pay the bills on our behalf and the fund is secured against the TV deal.

MacAnthony has told EFL chairman Rick Parry (L) that he should bring in a private investor 

We know there is £600m coming from television. Should the EFL not pay, then the lender gets the cash straight from the TV deal.

Everyone is going to need help. We budget for around £140,000 a month from gate receipts. With the season tickets it’s around 35 per cent of our income. It’s huge.

I employ hundreds of people and in 15 years I have never run the club to make money. I love being in football, I love owning Peterborough United. I don’t make any money and I don’t want coronavirus to finish my 15-year tenure in disaster.

People talk about the need to reset in the EFL. We don’t need a reset button, we need a realist button. Wages have to be brought into line. If we don’t do it now it will never happen. I saw the Daily Mail report on wages last week and it’s frightening, but it’s right. By the way — you’re out of order because I had the physio on asking for more money! Seriously, though, it has to change.

We need football back. Some say it’s a matter of life or death and you can’t talk about football. I’m sorry, you can have both conversations — it doesn’t make you a monster. When you employ hundreds with futures on the line, mortgages to be paid, you have to have those conversations.

You have to make the right decision. We have to listen to the Government and be guided by them but it is not going to be 100 per cent safe until we get a vaccine. The longer we go without football the less chance there is of it coming back for a long, long time.

There is no agenda from me. If we were in the relegation zone I would want us to play. If it doesn’t come back soon it is catastrophic for the industry and for mental health.

We need a lift. I don’t want to watch axe-throwing any more!

MacAnthony does not want the coronavirus to finish his 15-year tenure in disaster

MANAGER 

Lee Johnson (Bristol City)

Johnson has been manager since 2016. His club are seventh in the Championship, one point outside the play-offs.

It has been nice to spend a bit of real time with my family because sometimes you can be there but not there; in the room but thinking about team selection.

On the football side, we have a physical Zoom session with the lads on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The players have programmes to keep to and heart monitor apps. They have to weigh in twice a week so when they walk past their kids’ Cadbury’s Buttons it makes them think twice!

But the modern professional is different. In my day you’d see players doing two weeks of pre-season in a bin bag because they’d put two stone on boozing in Magaluf. Not now. When I was at Watford in the Premier League we were given a McDonald’s gold card and encouraged to have one free meal a day!

Lee Johnson’s Bristol City are seventh in the Championship, one point outside the play-offs

I also speak with some of the players in smaller groups. For example we got Han-Noah Massengo, a young midfielder, from Monaco. I’ve gone through 15 pictures of him, talking about his communication, his thought process, whether his shoulder position is good using the ball. I then show clips of him along with clips of top players in the same position.

Working from home has been good in some ways and there are lessons to be learned. Could we have a recovery day over Zoom rather than coming in for 15-30 minutes? That could work with some of the smaller sides. The million-dollar question is how long we will need to get them match fit. I think four weeks but that will be tough.

If the Government relax lockdown the first thing will be to organise individual sessions — four coaches with a pitch each, along with social distancing.

The boys will drive in with no facilities open at all and take defined, coned-off routes to the pitches. Someone will jet-wash and sterilise equipment after every mini-session. We’ll use a food delivery service rather than the canteen.    

Johnson thinks it will take at least four weeks for him to get his players back in shape 

It’ll be groups of six to eight but you can’t put the back four together, for example, because if one gets coronavirus you’ll have to isolate all of them for 14 days. Then we have to find a way of incorporating matches. A normal pre-season would mean seven games in six weeks. We’ll have to do in-house games at best. We might train a lot in our stadium to give them the feel of closed doors.

My players are very keen to get back. They are hardened athletes. Our boys trust the club. They know we would not put them in a situation that was detrimental to their health or that of their families.

For me, it is simple: you don’t restart until it’s safe. When you do, you resume the current season. I wouldn’t have a cut-off point. For the integrity of the game it is the only way to do it. With the contracts, there are a lot of agendas but you would hope a form of common sense would prevail. I’ve been involved in a play-off push here as a player. I know the buzz around the city. I want to experience it as a manager.  

Johnson says the current season must be resumed but only when it is safe to do so

PLAYER

Eoin Doyle (Swindon Town)

The Irishman is League Two’s runaway top scorer with 25 goals. His side Swindon Town are behind leaders Crewe on goal difference, with a game in hand.

I’m with my wife and we have three kids so I’ve had less time to myself than at any time in my life. I used to tell her that it can’t be that difficult — I won’t say that any more. I’m asleep on the sofa every night at 8pm!

I am missing football, obviously. We’re all in WhatsApp groups and we log our training, strength and runs. All of the lads are working hard from home to make sure we’re ready if called upon. We obviously want to get back.

I am missing the daily banter — the manager Richie Wellens did his work on personalities and there are no bad eggs in the dressing room. 

Doyle – nicknamed the Ginger Pele – is League Two’s runaway top scorer with 25 goals 

This situation is bigger than football. The main thing at the moment is keeping your family safe. My mum is a carer in a nursing home and is in PPE gear from head to toe four days a week. My wife’s mum has been ill so she’s at high risk, but so far, so good.

As players, we will only go back if we’re assured it’s safe — if we’re getting tested regularly. I’d be keen as long as it’s done properly.

The financial side is a worry, especially for those of us out of contract at the end of the season.

Clubs are paying to keep the lights on and you’d imagine that budgets next year will be slashed. The deals are not going to be what we thought we might be able to get six to eight weeks ago but there is no point in worrying until it happens. I couldn’t ask the club for an extension now and I wouldn’t have my agent chasing other clubs. It’s not right.


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