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Town's future secure despite virus income hit

THE chairman of Henley Town FC says that while the coronavirus pandemic has had a big financial impact, he is optimistic the football club can weather the storm.

Michael Keane is confident that the Red Kites can survive another 18 months to two years without another ball being kicked but still hopes next season can start as planned.

The club still had more than a dozen home games to play across its two Saturday and one Sunday sides when this season was ended in March due to covid-19.

Mr Keane said: “We had about 16 or 17 games left to play across the three sides, all at home, and that hit our finances hard because we would lose out on the bar takings as well as on the gate as we get a lot of people coming down to watch.”

The club has received a government business grant of £10,000 and Sport England has also helped with the running costs for the months of March to May. Henley Town Council has also awarded a grant of up to £2,500 towards general maintenance, paid in installments once materials or work has been bought or completed.

Mr Keane said: “We have overheads and rent and electricity bills to pay even when there is no football and it all adds up. But with the business grant and Sport England picking up some bills we can survive without another ball being kicked for 18 months to two years.

“The process has all been really fair and it is really welcome because we can’t charge players their subs when they are not playing and, without the bar, our income has been really hit hard.

“We are also hoping that Sport England will continue to help us financially.

“The grant from the town council has allowed us to start general refurbishment and to make sure the money is spent in the right way, it is drip fed into our account so that if we buy some tiles, we can show that we have bought them and what they will be used for.

“Some of our players are tradesmen so we have been able to get some of the work done without any labour costs.

“Over the last three or four weekends we have also been trying to get the pitch in a good condition and doing things like strimming behind the goal. Now we just need a bit of rain.”

Mr Keane, who lives in The Close, Henley, and played for the club in the early Eighties, says withdrawing from the Helenic League in 2017 has done much to improve the club’s financial position after years of struggling to make ends meet.

The first team now plays in the Thames Valley League along with its development (reserves) side and the Sunday team plays in the Reading and District Sunday League.

Mr Keane said: “The Hellenic league was pretty costly. You pay between £300 and £400 a match for the officials and you have to pay for programmes to be printed. Personally, the standard of football in the league wasn’t much better.”

He paid tribute to Fred Blackall, who helped turn Henley’s finances from the red to back in the black in three years. He stepped down as club steward in December.

Mr Keane said the Oxfordshire FA had told him that if the new season starts in September, as expected, one of the first games to be played would be the final of last season’s Sam Waters Sunday Cup where Henley Town were due to face Barton United.

The Red Kites had defeated Catherine Wheel FC 3-2 in the semi-final back in February while Barton had knocked out Jet FC.

Mr Keane said he hoped the club’s players would return to training this week in line with directives from the Football Association. These would be non-contact sessions with social distancing measures in place.

Meanwhile, first-team manager Paul Trimmings left the club after the season was halted. Applications have been received but a successor is yet to be announced.

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