English football’s pyramid will be destroyed unless the game starts to plan for the financial impact of Covid-19 beyond the 2019-20 season, says Huddersfield owner Phil Hodgkinson.
Hodgkinson thinks as many as “50 or 60” clubs could go bust.
He says he is looking at a “worst-case scenario” of no fans allowed in stadiums for the 2020-21 season.
“The problem is not whether we finish [this] season or not, it is what happens after that,” he told BBC Sport.
Having previously owned National League North side Southport, Hodgkinson has experience of the hand-to-mouth existence of many lower-league clubs.
“If we don’t come to an agreement there will be no football pyramid. There are clubs I know of that are only still trading because they are deferring wages and [tax] and other creditors. They will need paying at some point,” Hodgkinson said.
“There is an absolutely real, stark probability that if something isn’t agreed now within football to ensure all clubs can pay their bills and get through to the point where income is resumed, you will be looking at 50 or 60 clubs ceasing to exist. Genuinely, I am talking about that many.”
‘What is football going to do to ensure the entire pyramid survives?’
Hodgkinson says Huddersfield, three points above the Championship relegation zone, want the season to restart “when it is safe”, with clubs set to return to training on Monday.
But he says the game “is not looking at the bigger picture”, with the main focus being on restarting the current season.
“It will cost each club between £150,000 and £200,000 for testing to get to the end of the season,” he said. “But what happens after that?
“We have been told by the government that there will be no large gatherings until there is a vaccine and that is likely to be in 2021. That means football clubs will lose a vast proportion of their income outside of any broadcast money, which is likely to be significantly reduced or clawed back anyway.
“In normal revenue, we are looking at losing between £7m and £10m. The claw-back for TV is going to be £10m-£30m. That is just us. So, what is football going to do to ensure the entire pyramid survives this? The discussion is being avoided. For the next three, six or 12 months clubs are going to have no income.”
One solution Hodgkinson has suggested is reducing players’ wages at every level of the game.
“The players are not to blame,” he said. “But the reality is, the players have to be part of the solution because if clubs go bust, their contracts won’t get met anyway.
“They may not like me saying this, but [players’ union] the PFA need to put in place salary cuts of between 30% and 50% for all players at all levels until such a time as crowds are allowed back into football stadiums and income streams return.
“These are ideas. They may not be the right ones. But something has to be done because everyone knows what is coming and people are just sticking their heads in the sand.”