Written by Frankie Rudland (@rudlandfrankie)
Pre-season friendlies seldom hold much significance in football. The occasions are fast forgotten and results dismissed after the final whistle as clubs switch their attentions to the next test that stands between them and the official curtain raiser.
And whilst Hamworthy United’s dramatic 3-3 draw with Badshot Lea was just one of many warm up matches that the Wessex League outfit will partake in before they embark on their upcoming campaign, it marked the first time that The Hammers were allowed to play in front of a crowd since Covid-19 curtailed the competitive season in March.
Following a tumultuous period for non-league football which saw as many as 17 sides either fold or withdraw from their respective competitions, the DCMS finally gave the go-ahead for Step 3-6 clubs to reintroduce fans late last week.
Under new guidelines, The Hammers were allowed to admit 150 fans as they reopened on Saturday, a figure which will rise on the 31st of August as part of the phased reintroduction of supporters.
Speaking to Nerve Sport, Hamworthy United’s chairman, Steve Mitchener, reflected on what was a hectic week for those at the Dorset based side: “It’s been a little bit 100 mile an hour as far as sorting out dressing rooms and making sure we have safe access to the facilities is concerned, we’re also very limited in terms of the number of people that are allowed to come in.
“150 was deemed to be our maximum based on our capacity, which is in place for about 10-11 days before we can go a little bit higher.
“The main issue wasn’t so much about the spectators but about the facilities for the team, as part and parcel of these conditions we’re not allowed to use the dressing or showering facilities, but in conjunction with the Dorset County Football Association late last night (Friday) we were able to sanction the use of those facilities with a risk assessment and imposing the obvious social distancing precautions.
“It’s been a difficult period from an administrative perspective, the club was open for a game midweek so we were already up and running, today was more of a tester for what’s to come this season.
“The main thing is that people enjoy it, we offered for people to come in via donation so that we can get people back through the doors and watching us play football which is the most important thing.”
When you take that in to account financially, that’s an awful amount of revenue that we haven’t picked up
Whilst clubs across the country have lost vital income from fans being kept away from the action, Mitchener also highlighted the loss of revenue during the off-season as a large burden for sides similar to The Hammers.
“It has been a frustrating time for us, we shut down the bar facility in March and it only reopened again on the 15th of August, partly because we aren’t a pub as such.
“The difficulty that we’ve had is that we had a summer booked out for county cup finals, functions more or less every Saturday, two wedding receptions which we had to cancel and then all of September’s functions which will be pushed off as well.
“When you take that in to account financially, that’s an awful amount of revenue that we haven’t picked up compared to a year ago.
“I have no major issue with it being late opening because we want to ensure that it is a safe environment to come down to. We’ve gone government compliant, we’ve got a one way system, screens at the bar and table service as well to make sure that we’re doing all we can.
“As I say there is no issue with the timing of it, it’s just frustrating when you look at all the possible revenue that we could have had.”
We could have been running out of money by the end of the year
Despite the ticking financial time bomb that is Covid-19 leaving few industries untouched, local businesses have still been forthcoming with sponsorship for The Hammers, which is something that Mitchener was keen to applaud.
He added: “I have to compliment the sponsorship element that we started a month or two ago, local people and businesses have been fantastic in terms of putting money into the football club which has been a great help.
“We still have our members club which is £5 a month and people get an opportunity to win money which we are still doing, so there has still been some money trickling in.
“That being said, once we hit the point of competitive football and the wages start to come out, we could have been running out of money by the end of the year but for the club opening up this month and getting back to some form of normality. That’s how serious it could be.”
Although the stands of the The County Ground finally saw the return of supporters on Saturday, fans of clubs higher up the pyramid will have to wait a little while longer before they get the green light to return to their old seats, which is something that Mitchener is hoping to capitalise on.
“One of the things that has been quite interesting over the last couple of months is the positive reaction and support of our social media posts.
“We’ve got a lot of proactive guys doing a lot of good things on Twitter and Facebook, and at the end of July the response to our posts had gone up by something like %1100 with an awful lot of people joining the club on our new website as well.
“There is a lot of interest, Poole’s only up the road and so is Wimborne so perhaps we will draw in a few of those spectators and hopefully they’ll like what they see and visit us on a regular basis.”
Next up for Hamworthy is a local derby against a new look Wimborne Town who have welcomed plenty of fresh faces including new management over the summer. Hammers’ boss Tim Sills will be hoping his side can claim a scalp against the Southern Premier League outfit on home turf.
Wimborne fans will also have an opportunity to get their first glimpse of the new regime as guidelines permit fans of clubs outside of steps 3-6 to travel to away games.
The game kicks off at 3pm on Saturday 29th at The County Ground. Follow Hamworthy United on Twitter for live score updates.