Wingate chairman Sharpe believes key financiers have not provided support
- Credit: Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo
The feeling at non-league Wingate & Finchley is that the key financiers in football, be it top level clubs or the media, have not provided adequate support to help the lower leagues navigate the treacherous pitfalls of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This comes amid growing calls from the Football and National Leagues for increased government intervention in order to prop up the backbone of this country’s historical footballing legacy.
FA councillor and chairman of Wingate & Finchley Aron Sharpe revealed where the club stand at the moment and what the future holds for the step three club.
Sharpe has been chairman for over 10 years and overseen both promotion and the club’s highest league position of fifth in the Isthmian League Premier Division.
A businessman and entrepreneur, he says he runs the club in a “responsible and sustainable” manner focusing on developing youth players and providing them with a platform to take the next step in their careers.
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The desire to develop and coach youth players stems from the club’s commitment to the local community. They have an array of inclusive initiatives aimed at getting young people involved in sport as far down as under-six.
Working with local charities such as Barnet Mencap ensures there are no barriers to inclusion, highlighting the powerful role sport can have in the local community.
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“It feels a disservice to bring money into it but the limited finances of the club, in a strange way, can be seen as a contributing factor to the success of the club’s model,” said Sharpe.
“The players aren’t contracted and attendance on match days is disappointingly low comparatively (generally an essential form of revenue for clubs at this level).
“Losing tenants in the clubhouse due to Coronavirus – one was a Bridge club with predominantly members aged 75-plus, who for obvious reasons were unable to continue – deepened their woes.”
They received a grant of £10,000 from the powers-that-be, however “that doesn’t go anywhere” due to the costs of PPE, fresh signs, Perspex screens at £100 apiece to mention but a few.
Regrettably, the “pro clubs do not do enough for this level in terms of filtering money down”.
“Let’s not forget what football is. It’s community,” pleads Sharpe passionately.
Community was at the centre of the club’s founding, uniting Jewish players to form a team as a show of strength against anti-semitism through the 1930s and early 1940s.
And community exists in every level of football today and is undeniably a cornerstone for all clubs, irrespective of their league standing (either Premier League or step three).
But it is also relevant within the football sphere itself as clubs should look out for other clubs and filter money down wherever necessary.
Sharpe stresses that there is a lack of understanding of the non-league level from people in the Premier League, FA, government and especially those in the media.
“It’s the Premier League’s ‘out-of-touchness’ which may serve as a blessing in disguise as it disenfranchises fans and pushes them back down to the lower leagues,” he said.
As an FA councillor, Sharpe is privy to the inner workings of the world’s oldest football association. With this insight, he says it has been on the receiving end of some unfounded, false, presumptive, and unfair accusations.
“To a certain extent, the FA’s hands are tied by the metaphorical tightening grip of government directives. All of the decisions surrounding fan admittance and money allocation are at the behest of government.
“The FA want nothing more than to see lower-level clubs have support in the stadia and understand the financial importance this has to teams. In no uncertain terms, teams could be set to lose thousands of pounds per game if fans are continually refused entrance.”
The Wingate fanbase is small – perhaps due to being located within a bus ride of Tottenham, Arsenal, and Barnet – but its pulling power is still great. It is a friendly, community-based club where football fans can finally satisfy their craving for live football. And good football at that.
Sharpe takes great pride in the way Spencer Knight’s team play their football – with expression, freedom, and confidence – although it’s a style which is perhaps not best suited to the league. But he doesn’t just want to “watch a tennis match”.
“One encouraging development is that teams in the lower echelons of the football pyramid are now exploring the potential of streaming matches online as a means to bring in more revenue,” he said.
This comes with his assertion that the media ought to work in conjunction with the FA to ensure that all teams receive a cut of the streaming money.
“Currently, a disproportionate number of teams are getting TV or radio deals due to their history and reputation as a ‘traditional club’ and in essence putting a glass ceiling on clubs who might play better, more exciting football and would serve to gain more from the media attention,” he said.
“Eradicate the politicisation of football and bring football back to the people. It’s the people’s game, and it should stay that way.”