Grassroots clubs face dark days amid season suspensions

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Community football clubs are battling to stay alive as competitions around the country are put on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak.

While the A-League’s financial struggles amid forced postponements have filled column inches, it is at the grassroots level where Australian football could really suffer.

Football Federation Australia made the decision to suspend all grassroots football on March 18 with no clubs allowed to play games or train as a team until May 31.

However, with the outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia worsening, the suspension of football could be set to go on for much longer.

Sydney-based APIA Leichhardt FC are one of many clubs that have been hit heavily by the international health crisis.

APIA
SBS

The historic outfit have teams in the semi-professional men's and women's National Premier League NSW competition, as well as numerous amateur junior teams.

This time of year thousands of players and fans would go through the turnstiles every week at their Lambert Park home ground, which also plays host to a football academy and a social six-a-side competition on weeknights.

Instead, the gates remain locked and vital sponsors are turning away as limited cash reserves quickly dry up.

“If we are looking at being closed for about three months, at this stage, we're looking at least at a quarter of a million dollars in net loss,” APIA administrator Mario Raciti said.

“Half of our sponsors have already pulled out and we have incurred numerous expenses in preparation for the season which we won’t be able to recoup.

“You can’t recover that sort of loss. You just hope there are nice people at the club or sponsors that can help us make up the difference over time.”

APIA’s precarious financial situation is one shared by both NPL and lower league clubs all around the country.

If – and when – football resumes, Raciti is adamant the game will have a different look with many clubs unable to survive through the tough times.

Mario Raciti
APIA Leichhardt FC administrator Mario Raciti says many grassroots clubs will be unable to bounce back from the suspension of football
SBS

“You will be seeing closures. I think you'll see a lot of clubs will hit the wall,” he said.

“We are very lucky in that we own our fields and don’t have to pay rent on top of our other expenses, but not everyone has that luxury and will be making really tough decisions as they try to cling on.”

Ashleigh Palombi, who stars for APIA’s NPL Women's team, revealed the suspension of the season has had a far greater impact on players than just missing matches.

“It's a huge part of our life and it's a huge outlet for a lot of us. To have that snatched away from us in such a short amount of time has been very difficult to grasp,” Palombi said.

“We worked really hard in pre-season and put a lot of things in our personal life on hold for football.

“Now the game has been put on hold too.”

Grassroots clubs around the country hold out hope the season isn’t cancelled completely with Raciti stating a shortened campaign would go a long way to helping teams remain viable.

“The state federations should take their time in making a decision on this year’s competition,” he said.

“It should be a week by week proposition with constant dialogue between the clubs and the governing bodies.

“We would be able to play well into summer if we had to and I imagine a large number of other teams would also be willing to do that.

“For the time being we must live with this uncertainty and, at the end of the day, that is going to be a challenge faced by everyone in the game.”