Coronavirus crises – how four local clubs have dealt with the pandemic

Whatever area of life you work or live in, the coronavirus pandemic has caused some notable and at times unwelcome changes.

Schedules have been interrupted, routines aren’t what they used to be and some of our favourite places have temporarily closed – or in some cases shut down.

The effect of lost revenue can be relatively harmful at the best of times – so you can imagine what it must be like to be involved with a local business that always needs to find new ways of keeping afloat in very different circumstances altogether.

Matchdays can be a massive boost to raise funds in order to improve facilities on and off the field and if there’s a clubhouse involved as well, then all the better for using it to host weddings, christenings and other events.

But what do you do when you can’t have anything going on that inhibits your methods of getting some money into the coffers?

MM spoke to four people at four different clubs across the metropolitan borough of Bolton to see what steps they were taking to make sure they’d still be around after the pandemic ceases.


Dave Crouch – Bolton Rugby Club

Dave has been the director of rugby at Bolton Rugby Club since 2019 and until fairly recently had been the head coach of the 1st XV side before choosing to step aside for incoming coach Richard Rawlinson.

I spoke with him over the phone via Cleanfeed on Friday 10th July as we discussed the return of senior players to training in addition to a crowdfunding page set up to raise funds lost due to the coronavirus pandemic.

First of all, Dave admitted that changes had to be made in order to make the return to training for the players effective.

“Training was different but I think we coped with it very well. Obviously, we had to do social distancing as well but we kept at it and it was quite a good session we had thirty-odd people down actually.”

However, this hasn’t been easy with use of rugby balls being banned for the initial sessions.

“It was restricted to strength and conditioning drills but you can do other stuff such as silly games and things like that to keep the interest going and you do running and the strength and conditioning before the season starts anyway but it’s just a bit nicer if you do it with a ball. Hopefully we can do so in the next couple of weeks.”

On the other hand, he does feel that new 1st XV head coach Richard Rawlinson can have a positive impact on the side, who were in danger of relegation from North Two West until the season was curtailed in March.

He does stress that much work lies ahead for the new campaign – whenever that may start.

“We were very fortunate that we managed to stay in the league and it’s gonna be quite a hard league again because we got new teams coming up from the league below and teams coming down [from the league above].

“Hopefully Richard can guide us through the games next season whenever we may start. We’re not sure yet when that’s going to be.

“The RFU have said it might be October, it might be November, or it might just get to February, so we just have to wait and see what the RFU tell us to do and what the Government tell us to do.

“But for us the most important thing is keeping everybody safe at the club so we can actually do some training and be completely aware of what we have to do.”

The real issue is the fact that the club itself has been shut since March, which means that revenue has been lost from hiring the venue out for events such as weddings and christenings.

With that in mind, a crowdfunding page has been set up to guide the club through a very uncertain period.

“If people would like to donate anything will do. We’re hoping to get as much as we can because every penny helps us.

“I know everybody’s in the boat asking for donations which I know is very tricky but if you can I’d very much appreciate it.”

He is keen to point out that even with some normality creeping back in, it won’t be a straight-forward affair.

“It is an uncertain time. We don’t know when the first game will be. We just don’t know.

“It’s very difficult to try and guess it and we’re trying to do a bit in the training because we know it [the season] won’t start in September so we just have to wait and see.”

Shaun Lynch – Atherton Laburnum Rovers Football Club

Shaun has been chairman of Atherton Laburnum Rovers FC since February 2019 having succeeded long-serving chairwoman Jane Wilcock. He had also been first team manager from June 2016 to December 2017. The club plays in the First Division North of the North West Counties Football League.

I spoke with him over the phone via Cleanfeed on Thursday 16th July where we spoke about the impact of coronavirus on the club as well as preparations being made for the 2020-21 campaign.

“Our last income from gate revenue was from the first week of March. The council and the football foundation have given us some grants to generate some income, but nothing like what we’d get from match days and other events.

“We still don’t know when we’re gonna start [the new season] – there’s no light at the end of the tunnel yet.”

The start of the interview doesn’t sound very positive by Shaun’s account, although he notes that things have been OK for the people of Atherton in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Happily, the tone does improve considerably.

For example, with no fans coming into the club’s home ground Crilly Park, Shaun and a few others involved have taken advantage of this situation by making some upgrades to the off-the-field facilities, such as the stand that was constructed in the mid-90s off the back of the club’s run to the semi-finals of the FA Vase competition in the 1993-94 season.

“The main stand hasn’t been painted in twenty plus years and we’ve been going at it for about a month now.

“One of our sponsors have donated the paint for free and it should be finished in another couple of weekends.

“Mark [Robinson, first team manager] and Warren [Jones, first team assistant manager] have done the home team dressing rooms up to a high standard and they’re looking brilliant.

“Myself and one or two others have done up the men’s toilets to a high standard as well and once we’ve completed the stand, we’ve got other jobs to do around so the ground will look spick-and-span when the ground opens up in October when we’re back in the swing of things.”

Speaking of Robinson, he’s undertaking a walk of fifty laps around the pitch to raise funds for both the NHS and the club – a task Shaun is thankful that the first team manager’s doing rather than him.

“It’s alright going downhill but when you’re running back uphill it’s a different ballgame altogether on our slope,” he laughs.

He also states: “Our physio has got our defib [sic] sorted just in case Mark keels over on his last lap late on.

“It brings a bit of fun to club and we’ve not had much of that of late.

“Our off the field people like Katie Lynch and Lisa Harrison have been working hard on the old infrastructure to keep social distancing going. Obviously, we’re not gonna pack the place out, we’re just gonna be sensible and make sure that we can cope for when matches start again.”

Peter Gray – Turton Football Club

Peter has been chairman of Turton FC since May 2013 and combines this role alongside his full-time work as a Sales Director.

I spoke with him face to face in the car park at Toby Carvery on Monday 17th August to analyse the impact of coronavirus on the club and what it is has done for their preparation ahead of the 2020-21 season in the Premier Division of the West Lancashire Football League.

“Personally I’ve been well, I’ve kept safe, all my family’s stayed away from the COVID stuff. I know a guy who died, people who have been ill and stuff, so yeah it sort of hits home that this is serious.”

“I’m sure it’s affected people’s families, work and finances, but we’ve all managed to keep well.”

This is Peter’s early assessment of what coronavirus has done to him and his family as well as everyone involved at Turton FC.

Unlike other clubs in this article, strictly speaking they have no clubhouse of their own that can host events to raise funds when the football season isn’t on.

That said, he’s grateful that the junior section has provided a lifeline to support the club.

“Some of our income comes through the junior teams and we do reinvest the vast majority back into the junior section because we have a culture of improving every year, whether it’s pitch works, more teams or the new changing rooms.

“A lot of the money that we do generate in the clubhouse comes from match day income so it’s self-funding.

“But we’ve still got a lot of running costs such as a tractor that wants paying for to maintain the standard of the pitch over the summer.

“The pitch is looking like Wembley at the moment. We’re just dying to get a game on there.

“Bizarrely we’re deemed to be in Blackburn with Darwen even though we’re a BL postcode, so we can’t even play any friendlies or anything.”

While Peter bemoans the lack of games played at their ground on Thomasson Fold, there are a couple of clubs higher in the football pyramid than Turton whom are experiencing worse luck.

Droylsden FC, who were in the Northern Premier League, resigned from the competition due to lack of funds, while fellow Tameside outfit Curzon Ashton FC are mindful of what may lie ahead for next season in the National League North division.

“They [Curzon Ashton] rely heavily on their income from the clubhouse to determine the playing budget for the year.

“So it’s hitting every level in different ways, but I don’t think there’s anyone who’s come out of it financially better.”

Perhaps understandably, Peter would like to see a return to normality that could suit everyone not only at Turton FC but across the whole of Lancashire.

“I think people need to get on with what they normally do, which in our case is a lot more fundraising.

“Whatever people did they need to get back to what they were doing. Safely of course.”

And what does he think will happen once the season begins in the West Lancs League on the 5th September?

“We all need to get playing football and the sooner we can get fans watching local and amateur football the better.

“As long as everyone’s sensible we’ll be OK.”

Steve Dickinson – Bradshaw Cricket Club

Steve has been chairman of Bradshaw Cricket Club for approximately six years having been involved with another cricket club in the Bolton area called Egerton CC.

I spoke with him face to face at the club on Tuesday 18th August following a training session as we delved into the financial impact of coronavirus on the club plus the changes that had to be made to accommodate the shortened season in the Greater Manchester Cricket League, the competition the club had transferred to from the Bolton Cricket League in time for the 2020 season.

Although Steve and his family have done everything right to ensure that coronavirus didn’t have too much impact on them, Bradshaw were hurt quite a bit.

“It’s cost us about 50 grand in lost revenue with social events, beer festivals, fireworks, revenue at cricket games, sponsorships, the list goes on and on.

“However we’ve always been quite frugal with our money. And as soon as lockdown came, we just basically stopped spending money.

“We told the pro he wasn’t required and we just spent the money on health and safety stuff and it’s seen us through the pandemic until we could start netting.”

He refers to the ECB guidelines that were unveiled at the start of July to allow cricketers to return to training in the nets.

“As soon as the guidelines were released that we could net, we made sure that everything was safe so the guys were playing cricket from as early as they possibly could.

“When it changed to six players we changed it up and did the same again when it came to sessions.

“We’ve had a full junior programme on because we know that juniors are a massive part of our club. That includes junior sessions and the All-Stars programme [a scheme used by local clubs throughout the country to encourage children between the ages of five and eight to participate in the sport].”

He also praised the work from the Greater Manchester Cricket League in keeping them informed of what they needed to do when no-one had any idea back in March if any cricket was going to be played at all.

“The communication from the GMCL has been brilliant. We all have a regional director and Mike [Hall]’s involvement in helping us get set up and making sure everybody was registered has been really, really good.”

And much like Shaun Lynch, he was quite pleased with everything that had been done to the facilities at the club in time for the new campaign.

“We’d already committed to doing the changing rooms up and spending 13 grand on the outfield with sand banding and verte-draining.

“There was two of us who were doing the changing rooms whilst practising social distancing and keeping ourselves sanitised and they’re now done and that’s for both home and away areas.”

Even with those developments completed, a more pressing matter might be how to get more money in, even with the season starting later than planned.

But what can be done with restrictions still in place in indoor venues?

“Well it’s really difficult because you can’t have a function of more than forty-eight people which is what we can have in the club.

“We could have more people outside, but that could be difficult because if the weather’s not kind to you, you could have one hundred people in total and something like thirty people outside in the rain. Which is not good. So it’s really difficult to organise things.”

On the other had, there is some happy news to report with more people signing up to the club.

“We are doing really quite well over the bar at the moment after going cashless and we’ve had thirty new members joining us, which is ironic.

“But I must say the new and current members have been really supportive of the club in this difficult time.”

And once the season began on the 25th July, leagues and divisions were altered to reduce travel around the North West – something Steve was happy with once it meant that the 1st XI would be in a group alongside Edgworth, Egerton, Greenmount, Woodbank and Walshaw.

“We always got told that you’d have to play regional cricket once some of the lockdowns were lifted. And we’ve been having a great time so far.

“Some of the guys have never been to the likes of Woodbank and it’s good when you go there [because] it’s different grounds, different people.

“They don’t know who you are, you don’t know who they are, and it’s all good for cricket really.”

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