Covid-19 and the non-league: Cray Wanderers expect challenging times

Cray CEO talks postponement of football, the team’s great form before this break, and George Taylor’s special day, as London’s oldest football club honoured its centenarian goalkeeper this month.

George Taylor, Cray Wanderers
Centenerian ex-Cray keeper George Taylor was honoured at Hayes Lane this month (photo: @PaulMat51794654)

Cray Wanderers CEO Sam Wright has joined a host of other non-league officials in expressing deep concern for the English football pyramid, if Coronavirus is to close turnstiles indefinitely.

The Isthmian League confirmed the postponement on Friday of weekend and midweek fixtures, with clubs expecting further news regarding this Saturday’s league programme.

Wright, whose side play in the league’s Premier Division, backs the measures, but at the same time fears the highly damaging affect that months without matches could have on the game at that level.

“You can’t be disappointed because ultimately it’s about safety. Most of our fans are older, so is it a risk for them guys going to watch the game, more so than the players who are young, fit and will probably recover OK if they get it [the virus].” Wright said.

“A lot of people who watch non-league football are in their sixties and above. So maybe they looked at it from that perspective.

“But it’s hard. I’m now trying to work out what we’re going to do if we don’t play again this season. It’s a big chunk of income we’re going to lose. What do we do about paying players? It’s a bit of a headache.”

The Isthmian League’s approach mirrored that of the Premier League and EFL, which both suspended fixtures until the beginning of April at the earliest. However, the National League, one step above Cray, went ahead with its schedule, which did surprise Wright.

“I presumed that the National League was also off, because I heard that all of the top end of the pyramid; National League, Isthmian, and all that, were meeting together to consider what we do as the top-end of the non-league pyramid. But we [the clubs] don’t get a say at all really.

“They’re buying themselves a bit of time I think. They’ll make a decision middle of next week, but I think it’s [Covid-19] probably only going to worse over the few weeks and months.

“The big question is going to be what do they do; Premier League, EFL, all of them, if it does get worse as they’re saying and there’s no football till June, mid-June, late-June? You can’t roll this season into the next.”

The inevitable break comes at a particularly inopportune time for The Wands, who sit second in their league following an unbeaten run stretching back to Boxing Day.

Cray, whose, next scheduled home game is not until 29th March charge adults £10 admission, and regularly draw crowds of around 200, with 621 against Enfield Town in October being the season-high.

Wright added: “One thing we were gutted about is that we’re on such a run, and have really got some momentum going: won nine and drawn three since Christmas; unbeaten in 2020. We were raring to go again.”

“If we don’t play this week and next week we’ll probably be alright. It’s if we don’t play the rest of the season that’s the worry, and how that would work out for the non-league pyramid, at our level.

“A lot of clubs work to a really really tight budget line. Will it put a few non-league clubs to the wall? If suddenly for the next few weeks there’s no football at all.”

As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to escalate across the UK and abroad, it has already been a March nobody is likely to forget. But at Cray, the month did begin with a special event, when ex-goalkeeper George Taylor, who turned 100 years old in January, was honoured at Hayes Lane.

Taylor’s football career was cut short by World War II, though he has clearly not been forgotten by Cray Wanderers, who he played his last match for in 1938. Wright reflects on the memorable occasion.

“George had the most amazing day. He’s an unbelievable guy, for 100 years old, everyone was going ‘I can’t believe it!’ He walked onto the pitch on his own, he booted the ball, he lives on his own, he shops still for himself, cooks for himself, and he’s 100 years old!”

“We got a lot of exposure that week which is good for club. We were on talkSPORT, BBC Radio, Sky Sports News. We got quite a few interviews out there.

“We had a little bit of interest from a TV company on the back of it as well, about a possible documentary around London’s oldest football club [Cray Wanderers], the new stadium and that kind of stuff.”

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