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'We are literally just looking to survive' - How British football coaches are being hit hard by coronavirus crisis

6:00 PM GMT+8 25/03/2020
Goalkeeping Intelligence
The UK is still trying to stop the spread of the virus and that has led to a halt in football across the board and some coaches feel left behind

Some British football coaches are fighting for survival amid the coronavirus outbreak with work drying up after the Premier League and EFL shut down. Throughout the sport, businesses are also beginning to ask themselves the question about how much money they can afford to lose.

Her Majesty's Government has announced support for businesses amid the Covid-19 public health crisis which is impacting the world at large. However, not all industries are covered in the current commitments to support full-time workers, leading to insecurity in football and beyond.

Top-flight coaches are known to be applying for work in supermarkets - just 10 days after the Premier League announced it would not continue in the short term. An optimistic return date of April 30, meanwhile, is not widely believed to be realistic within the industry. And football at lower levels is likely to be on hiatus for even longer.

Just like the rest of the UK's five million self-employed workers, coaches are already feeling the strain. Measures have been taken to slow the spread of the virus without any financial support being given.

Tony Elliott had a 15-year career as a Football League goalkeeper at clubs such as Birmingham City, Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City. He has since had a 20-year coaching career leading him to work with the FA, coaching blind and deaf teams, while he also works at Bristol City Women FC. He has seen his work evaporate despite his status in the game.

"It is tough for everybody. It isn’t about football, sport or goalkeeping; it is about life. We literally are just looking to survive," Elliott told Goal. "This is how extreme it can get. There’s a lockdown now.

"I have some prominent roles in the game working with the FA for the deaf and the blind squads at the national level as well as at Bristol City Women FC but I am on a contract for my services so neither have an obligation to pay me.

"The bottom line is that my two main revenue streams - and any other revenue streams I may have turned to - have all gone. It leaves me in a very precarious position. At this current time, I have no income streams.

"I was training these teams and then literally 10 days ago I get contacted by the club saying 'we aren’t getting together, you have to stay at home. There’s nothing going on at the training ground so we are closed down'.

"That’s okay for full-time staff because they are on contracts. The club are obliged to pay them. I am on a contract for services; I get paid when I work so there’s no way of paying me. I can’t work from home because my work is on the grass.

"You could do bits of analysis but that’s not a full day’s work. That’s a few hours a day so they aren’t going to pay you for that. They are going to prioritise full-time staff and I get that. That’s the risk you take when you are self-employed and do lots of different things. That’s what has happened with me.

"The FA have now cancelled all my squad training camp commitments until at least the beginning of August. It isn’t just hanging on until the end of April. I am just hoping we play football before the winter comes.

"The full-time staff or ones in top professional clubs will get looked after but I think some of those will go to the wall. There’s hundreds of thousands of staff members in all areas who are more or less full-time workers at clubs but are on zero-hours contracts or part-time contracts or service contracts and they won’t get a penny.

"Where it leaves those people I don’t know. What do you do now when you are finding other jobs? My CV is basically just experience as a footballer and a coach. I am not a bricklayer, nurse or doctor. I have no other qualifications outside of football and I think most are like me.

"I could work in supermarkets. I have done that before but there’s a process to work in those roles. There will be people no longer working in retail in shops who will get those chances ahead of a football coach.

"Everything else is closed so where are you going to work? The government are trying to force legislation through. If you are not working, you can go on Universal Credit. But we are still waiting on that.

"We have all got mortgages, rent or other things to pay for and we need help because our revenue streams have stopped completely on their say so. I support that decision because I don’t want to be passing on this potentially lethal virus.

"I am glad it is enforced but we need help and support to look after the self-employed. We are not just a handful of people. This is five million people self-employed and thousands in football."

Coaches who lose work can apply for Universal Credit but it may leave them short on paying bills as they face a big personal financial hit with the current support systems in place.

There are going to be more people impacted at the grassroots level with the UK's biggest goalkeeper training franchise, GK Icon, now moving online and assessing the damage to their business.

Many youth clubs in the UK do not have dedicated goalkeeper training and the ex-Watford academy player Joel Canning's business steps in to fill that gap.

"In the last week the business has gone from being very successful with 120 goalkeepers working a week - with buzzing sessions with 10 coaches working - on top of myself. Now, we are just trying to keep the business going in any way we can," Canning told Goal.

"We have resorted to online learning, resources and technical drills to keep the training going. Some people can no longer afford these extras with their children, so immediately it is a massive financial hit. Some have stuck with us for now but we worry that they might not stick with us.

"Losing people is to be expected given the situation, but we worry online training can only go so far, and we feel we are the world's leading goalkeeping business. We are a franchise model working with 30 centres offering coaching from ex-pros and academy level coaches.

"We are a thriving business. Now we are already seeing people tighten their belts on luxuries like ours. To keep our business going, we need customers to stay. We are now in a position where we are working out how many we can lose without going under.

"We have already taken a 20 per cent hit on our income. I have told coaches there isn't any work for them. I have paid them until the end of the month to give them extra support with no sessions. Beyond that? Who knows really.

"The franchise business and sole traders don't have any clarity on what is going to happen at the moment. There have been leaks but right now there's nothing really there. I am on the edge of my seat, desperate to find out about support for grants and funding."

Goalkeepers are particularly affected due to the specialist nature of the position among the coaching world. The Goalkeeping Intelligence online platform has moved to offer courses at a substantial discount to retain coaches able to offer services to the people that they depend on for income. Co-founder Adam Woodage explained why there's a particular concern among the goalkeeping community.

"GKs is an area where more private for-profit coaching is offered," Woodage told Goal. "There is an increase in outfield coaching doing the same but for goalkeeping, a lot of players don’t get this specific training in their grassroots environment so it has hit goalkeeping harder because of the number of GK coaches out there.

"It will be different for outfield coaching places too but they often have a large franchise behind them whereas these are small businesses. The coach of a Premier League goalkeeper is still working right now to ensure his club is in the best position to hit the ground running when the league returns.

"However, beneath that, these people might be on temporary contracts within an academy, or they are independent business people running training at the grassroots level or development level. They are going to be hit very hard by this because that’s the kind of income that is lost when activities cease.

"They also don’t have the backing and support of a big club to keep the income in. They are in a very difficult situation. The top professional goalkeepers might have lost some supplementary income with things they do on the side but that doesn’t compare to grassroots where people have lost almost all their income."