Brighouse Town Interview: “It costs £2,500 to sand a pitch, people don’t appreciate that when they play Football Manager.”

Source for image: Brighouse Town

With their season null and void, West Yorkshire club, Brighouse Town, talk about how they’re staying afloat and why Gary Neville’s donation was a complete shock.

This article originally appeared on And He Takes That Chance on 15 May 2020.

In May 2019, Brighouse Town were ecstatic. They’d just won the biggest game in the club’s history, the Evo Stik East Division Playoff Final, against rivals Pontefract Colleries. The side were due to be promoted to the highest league they’d ever played in, just a league below the likes of Bradford Park Avenue, York and Guiseley. Or so they thought. A league restructure based on an average points-per-game ratio meant they missed out on promotion.

It still hurts their Chairman, James Howard, to this day. “We were incredibly frustrated with that last season, and we lost our star players. We had the highest goalscorer in the league, Aaron Martin, and other very good players. We ended up losing them to higher-ranked sides.”

It’s a year later and Brighouse Town, who sit in the eighth tier of English football, have had their fate decided for them once again. On 26th March, The Football Association declared all non-league seasons below the sixth tier “null and void”.

Although it looked unlikely that Brighouse would make the playoffs this time around, for James Howard, not being able to decide it for yourself feels like fate is not on your side. “We’ve had two seasons of bad luck if I’m brutally honest. I’ve been told by some fans ‘James, you haven’t got us promoted and now the season has been null and voided!’ It makes me laugh… hopefully, next season is our season.”

The impact of COVID-19 on all football clubs, especially non-league sides, brings up more important questions, like what if there’s not a club next season?

Damian Wales, Social Media Manager for Brighouse Town, is frank when it comes to the financial difficulties the club is now facing. Although the league was cancelled in late March, for Brighouse, their last home game was on the 22nd February, which means they were already looking to their upcoming games for revenue before the pandemic.

“A large part of our income stream is from people going through the gate, buying raffle tickets, food and drink, beers, everything like that massively helps the club.

“We had four big home games coming up. Tadcaster, Workington, teams like that with really big companies paying to sponsor the games. But because the season has been null and voided, we’ve lost the income from those matches.”

Like most non-league clubs, Brighouse Town is very much a part of the community as a home for local football, including matches for nearby schools. The town’s amateur teams also regularly use the ground as a base. These events are well attended and not only provide an opportunity for communities to connect, but they are also a valuable revenue stream for the club.

It’s a place for people to come together and enjoy the sport. “We don’t charge admission but they always come in and have a pint or a few pints if they’ve won [laughs] and get some food after the game.”

But with everything on lockdown, the Yorkshire Payments Stadium remains empty.

James Howard tells me that, “We’ve had to make a lot of tough decisions”. All non-playing staff who weren’t volunteers have been furloughed. As for the players, their contracts expired in April but Brighouse has made efforts to keep who they can.

With the lack of certainty and no prediction for when the season will resume, the club can’t really plan for what lies ahead. Their sponsorships are due for renewal too. Last year, Brighouse hosted Bradford City for a pre-season game, ‘these big-ticket friendlies’ attract nearly three times the crowd they get for normal matchdays, but as James points out, who is going to sponsor a football team when every business is struggling?

“It’s really tough and we’re looking at our business forecast for the worst-case scenario if we don’t get two or three friendlies, we don’t get our sponsorship, what does the landscape look for Brighouse Town football club? It is dark and worrying, really worrying.”

James, who owns Yorkshire Payments, a card solutions company, has already invested a lot of his own money into the club. Their stadium is sponsored by his business, but with his business already battling the difficulties of the current crisis, he’s not sure if that sponsorship can continue. But fortunately for Brighouse Town, a former England international came to their rescue, Gary Neville.

Without regular income and looking to the community for support, the club created a JustGiving page. Staff rallied round and contacted everyone they could think of. Damian discovered Gary Neville had tweeted the club five years ago, to ask if a snowy Boxing Day match between Brighouse Town and Salford City was still going ahead.

“Gary Neville wanted to come on the day and watch. He came down with all the Class of ’92 so Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs. We weren’t just hosting Salford, it was a big occasion. All the kids were getting photos with them, autographs and it was a massive day for the club. He also came down with his dad Neville Neville, who unfortunately isn’t with us anymore and that was the last game he watched with his dad.

“I was sharing this JustGiving link out, and off the cuff, just asked Gary ‘do you mind sharing this on your Twitter?’ He did and then I just got this message. ‘Brighouse has a very close place to my heart so I’m going to give a donation’. We were like wow, just wow.”

“We can confidently say we slid into Gary Neville’s DMs.” laughs chairman James Howard.

“I had about 15 missed calls from people within the football club, and thought what on earth is going on? It’s a Saturday afternoon, there’s no football. I’m like ‘where is the fire, where is the casualty?’ Damian tells me that Gary Neville’s been in touch, so naturally, the cynic in me was ‘yeah whatever’ but to his credit, he was absolutely spot on.

“I continued where Damian left and Gary asked what we were down on revenue, we told him and he said ‘right I’ll cover it’. It was absolutely incredible and we thought it was a wind-up.”

When the news hit, Brighouse Town were thrust into the media spotlight. After a few crazy days, James, Damian and manager Vill Powell together had been mentioned on or spoken to Capital Radio, Talksport, ITV News, BBC Look North and Sky Sports to name but a few.

For a club that has professional sides like Huddersfield, Leeds United and Bradford City all in close proximity, it was nice to be the talk of the town for a change. Yet, despite the good news, they’re still short of their £10,000 JustGiving target, even with Gary’s donation.

“I don’t want anyone to be under the illusion that ‘oh Gary Neville’s made his donation, they’ll be fine’… Yes, the Gary Neville money has helped, but we’ve got further issues on the horizon.

“We got repairs, a roof that’s collapsed over our hospitality section, fences that have fallen down, new training goals, we have to seed and sand the pitch and to sand a pitch it costs £2,500 for a pitch of our status. People don’t quite appreciate that when they play Football Manager or FIFA at home. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes.”

It’s not just that, James mentions small things like how losing three footballs a match can cost them £180, professional footballs don’t come cheap. There are so many little details that add up to running a football club, and with no money coming through, they need all the support they can get.

“We’re grateful for every penny, every donation, every tweet and share on Facebook. People who can’t afford to contribute? Not a problem, I don’t begrudge anybody if they can’t or won’t do it, but please share or spread the word. Not just about Brighouse Town but Golcar, Emley, Shelley, Liversedge, Ossett United, all these teams around us they’re all in a similar position.”

Whenever football returns when fans can attend, James encourages everyone to come, get close to the action and watch a match for themselves. Non-league football supports the game as a whole. It’s a chance for players to have a fairytale rise to fame like Jamie Vardy. It gives youngsters from professional clubs experience they can’t get in reserve or youth games, playing in matches that matter to teams and in front of fans with points on the line.

On the pitch, Brighouse Town have had several Huddersfield Town loanees over the years, giving players valuable game time, such as Rarmani-Edmonds Green, who helped Brighouse clinch that playoff victory last year.

Huddersfield is a team that is close to James’ heart and it’s not just because of the loanee partnership. He’s part of the HTAFC Business scheme, where he met Phil Hodgkinson, Sean Jarvis and Dean Hoyle and has been there for all the big moments over the past few years. That’s why for Huddersfield Town season ticket holders, his club have got a promotion for half-price tickets, just £4 for adults or £2.50 for concessions when the football resumes.

“I urge all football fans to get behind non-league football and the other clubs I mentioned and support them. We don’t get support from the Premier League, we don’t get investment from The FA in regards to money, parachute payments, TV rights. We live hand-to-mouth and rely on the local butcher, baker, candle-stick maker to support us from a donation, we rely on fans buying food and drinks, this is real football, it’s tough and it’s difficult.”

If you want to donate to Brighouse Town’s JustGiving page, visit https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/brighousetownafc

Writer and podcaster, based in Leeds.

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