Ashington AFC chairman Brian Shotton has called on the FA and Premier League to help clubs affected by the aftermath of Storm Arwen.
By Steven Oldham
The storm decimated the fixture list on Saturday, with grounds damaged, clubs unable to travel and pitches frozen or waterlogged.
Ashington’s Woodhorn Lane ground suffered extensive damage as a result, including damaged goalposts, downed fences and damage to both dugouts - with one ripped out entirely.
The fences that do remain standing will still need replacing, as the concrete posts have split and left them insecure.
“There should be some sort of support from the FA or Football Foundation in extreme circumstances like this.
“The Premier League should also be providing more financial assistance. They did help us during Covid - for example, we did receive pitch preparation funding jointly from the Football Foundation and Premier League. I’m not saying they haven’t helped before, but I do think sometimes it doesn’t go far enough.
“If there’s money coming into our league, it should be strongly regulated what it can be spent on - things like dugouts, equipment or ground improvements. If Football League clubs are saying they’re not getting enough from the top of the game, it’s definitely not filtering down to us.
“I think there was an agreement when the Premier League started many moons ago about certain revenues coming back into grassroots football. I don’t think it’s been kept up,” he said.
The Ebac Northern League club were just one of many left needing ground repairs, with damage reported at clubs as widespread as Southport and Grimsby Town. Ashington’s divisional rivals were also affected, with damage reported at North Shields, Newcastle Benfield and Whitley Bay. Wind speeds of 98mph were recorded in Northumberland.
While it’s too early to put a financial cost on the repairs needed at Ashington - the weather on Saturday was still too bad to assess the damage fully - the club have already lost out on valuable income.
With an average attendance of around 450, the club had already ordered in food and drink for the match. Shotton estimates the club have already missed out on over £5,000 from gate receipts and associated matchday spend. Ashington were also set to welcome 20 guests to their corporate hospitality facilities.
“It’s bad that we’ve been affected by the damage, but we’ve also lost all the income from the game. It’s a lot to take in at 7:30 on a Saturday morning.
“There aren’t many free Saturdays left in the season now so we’re looking at a Tuesday night for the rescheduled game. Midweek games are never as good as a Saturday afternoon for us.
“You look at how far we have come in a short space of time, to get the average crowd to where we have. You can take it on the chin when it’s a frozen or waterlogged pitch. When your game’s off because your ground’s damaged, it’s hard to take,” he said.
Shotton became chairman in 2018 after a lifelong association with the club. Born and bred in the area, he had been involved with the club in various capacities before taking the chair. Still only 38, he has been active at the club for over 25 years.
He hopes the damage to the ground will be fixed in time for the club’s next home fixture, a county cup game with Newcastle United’s U23s in two weeks time.
He also had a few choice words for Aston Villa CEO Christian Purslow, who described the Premier League as the home of anything good in the English game in a much-derided Talksport appearance recently.
“The club’s in my veins, and I’ve grown up with the club. I’m born and bred around here. My grandad used to take me when I was a kid, and it’s always been a passion of mine.
“I arrived at the ground to see a dugout at the main entrance, and at that point I had an idea that things had gone south. It was a surreal feeling.
“We’re not the only ones, and we just need everyone to club together and fix it. I’m quite philosophical about it - it is what it is.
“There are people in the local area who have lost roofs from their houses and had walls come down. We’ve got to do what we always do, work hard and put it right.
“When you get the chief executive officer of a Premier League club saying it’s the best part of English football, it’s a bit short sighted. It’s doing a lot of people a lot of disservice by saying that. They should walk a mile in our shoes, and they will see that the Premier League is not the be all and end all. There’s a lot going on in the grounds that’s keeping the game alive at the lower levels.” he said.
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