FINANCIAL concerns have troubled Tooting & Mitcham FC but the welfare of its own has been of greater importance to club secretary Jackie Watkins.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought an end to a promising campaign for The Terrors, who had been situated eighth in the Isthmian League South Central Division in March.
But, away from the first team, the pandemic and subsequent lockdown has been hard on Tooting & Mitcham’s youth players – with Watkins asserting that much of the club’s attentions over the past few months has been focused on supporting its youngsters.
“Alongside the first team the club set up an academy about 11 years ago which is an education academy which feeds into the first team,” said Watkins, with the club she has been associated with for 17 years one of 228 Isthmian, Southern and Northern Premier League teams to benefit from GVC Holdings’ launch of grassroots sports investment programme Pitching In.
“We’ve had a reasonable amount of success with that which shows can progress and we’ve got pathways. That’s what this league should be, where people who have been overlooked can breakthrough.
“We were concerned with our younger players because a lot of them were finding it challenging. They had a number of things thrown at them over lockdown.
“Not only were a lot of them told they were more likely to get COVID-19 than anyone else because of their ethnicity, they also had Black Lives Matter and the slavery debate – they were all very confused by the time they came back.
“Ashley Bosah, who is our first team manager, also heads up our academy and he made sure the younger ones were getting out of bed and carrying on with their education.
“We reached out to as many people as we could because we knew many were alone and finding it difficult to cope.
“All our coaches are very community minded and they all knew that they had to play a part in making sure everyone was okay.
“It was the strangest time, knowing their particular bit of safety which is what their club means to them was around meant a lot.”
Of course, financial concerns have also plagued Imperial Fields but Watkins knows there is light at the end of the tunnel, with Pitching In’s flagship partnership with Trident League clubs promoting and supporting grassroots sport after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The multi-million-pound, multi-year investment programme will deliver vital financial assistance and is supplemented by an emphasis on community volunteers pitching in and contributing themselves.
A Pitching In volunteering scheme will be established to help strengthen community ties, with clubs also having the opportunity to apply for grants to ease the financial strain of lockdown.
The programme has also grabbed the attention of football royalty, with former England captain Stuart Pearce offering his support having started his career at Wealdstone FC.
With some sense of normality beginning to return Watkins is optimistic for the future and hopes the club’s main source of income, from its 3G pitch hire and function room, will steadily flood back alongside the injection of GVC Holdings’ support.
She added: “It’s a godsend, Pitching In’s support. Things like the FA Cup prize money has been cut in half this year and a lot of clubs like us were relying on a good cup run to help us.
“Although we’ve not been here for six months, we still have all the standing order expenses so you are playing catch up.
“Financially, earning no money since March 19 has been hugely difficult.
“We’re very lucky because we’ve got two 3G pitches but a lot of our income comes from that and with no one here it’s been very difficult.
“The main issue has also been having to give refunds for pitch time, functions, weddings etc…
“We rely on our function room and pitch hire, having to give all that back was quite a strain.
“We’re fully booked for this year now though so fingers crossed we can pull it back.
“Anything to come our way at the moment is just absolutely a blessing, it helps so much.
“It gives you faith that people out there know what you do as a community club. Having open doors and a place for people to gather is so essential at this time.”
GVC is launching a new multi-million-pound investment programme, Pitching In, designed to support and promote grassroots sports and is being launched with a flagship partnership with The Isthmian, Northern Premier and Southern Leagues – collectively known as The Trident Leagues. For more information visit: https://gvc-plc.com/PitchingIn