This week, Hereford and South Herefordshire MP and Bulls fan Jesse Norman has his say.
At the start of this year, the future looked perilous for Hereford United. Poor conditions saw the Kidderminster match postponed, with the loss of gate revenues; the telecoms deal was going off the rails; and the taxman had once again come knocking, this time with a winding-up petition in the High Court.
The picture is now a bit brighter. A cash injection has averted the court hearing; the Bulls have had a good run and the fans are finding yet more generous and innovative ways to support the club. This is particularly important as the club tries to negate an ongoing monthly loss of £22,000 until the end of the season when there will be an opportunity to re-assess budgets.
But we all know that there are fundamental problems with the way that non-league football is funded. When Hereford were relegated from the Football League in 2012, their share of rights income dropped from £750,000 a year to a tiny £50,000. Even with a one-off parachute payment to cushion the drop, that’s a huge fall in revenue.
And the Bulls are not alone in feeling the financial strain. In the past 12 months alone Portsmouth, Coventry City and Aldershot Town have all gone into administration. Macclesfield are on the brink.
Two weeks ago I wrote an article on the Telegraph website which asked a simple question: how can it be right that the very existence of a club with a famous name and a great tradition is under threat for an amount equal to half a week’s wages for a good Premiership player? In other words, what does that say about our priorities as a nation, and our view of football?
Of course the club must pay the taxes that it owes, as should all businesses. But we need to do more to recognise the value of community clubs like Hereford United. The Premiership may be a global brand, but it sits at the top of a pyramid of football clubs covering the length and breadth of the UK. They are what create and sustain our football culture.
That's why I have been pressing for a debate in Parliament on this issue. I have written to all 24 Members of Parliament with non-league clubs in their constituencies asking them to back my bid for a proper parliamentary debate about the future of non-league football. I am already receiving some encouraging responses and will push for a debate at the earliest opportunity.
What I want to stress to the Government, the Football League, the FA, the Premiership and all those involved in the organisation of professional football is that most clubs mean vastly more to their fans than their mere value as a business.
That's abundantly clear from the messages that I have received from Bulls fans far and wide who have contacted me to tell their stories. Many spent their childhoods at Edgar Street and now, as parents or grandparents, take their children too. As one man put it: “Hereford United’s past is inextricably linked with my own.”
Matters on the pitch should be left to the pros. But I hope that with the help of MPs across all parties, we can push these issues up the political agenda.