Lower league semi-professional football clubs face a tough season ahead and some may not survive, according to the boss of a Southern League club.

Ian Hammond, chairman of Salisbury FC, which plays in the Southern League Premier Division South, would like to see the Football Association giving more much-needed support to non-league and grass roots clubs, ‘the backbone of their communities’. The clubs fed players to the upper leagues, he pointed out. Lack of finances would hit clubs hard during the coming season, he stressed.

“It will be hard going for every club at our level and below, and some may drop out during the season. Salisbury will survive and do well but more help from the FA would be welcomed,” Mr Hammond said.

Much depended on the government’s decision about grounds re-opening: the FA has earmarked September 19, but the government is saying it may not be before October.

“It’s only my guess but I suspect it will be the latter, although we will be playing friendlies with closed gates in August and early September , without any income. Clubs at our level can’t pay players if there is no money coming through the turnstiles.”

The club averaged 600-plus spectators at its games but social distancing would reduce the numbers and all the bar facilities may not be open. Sponsors could decide to pull out, due to their own financial difficulties, and the club could not survive having to play matches behind closed gates.

He confirmed the club had been given £1,500 for pitch maintenance, and £500 to pay for Covid-19 hygiene facilities. Government financial assistance for small businesses had also been helpful. But he compared that to the salaries paid to top league players of £200,000 a week, and more.

The time had come for the FA to put some money into semi-professional non-league football clubs as well as grass-roots played by local amateurs.

“A lot more money needs to come from the top,” Mr Hammond added. He said that if clubs started playing again, even with social distancing, fans might be reluctant to return, especially season ticket-holders who had sat in the same seat for several seasons.

“It would not be the same watching football in a face mask and not being able to shout and cheer,” he said.