Published: 06:00, 18 February 2021
Dover boss Andy Hessenthaler admitted they’ve tried to compete this season on “a part-time budget in a full-time league’.
Whites have struggled since the Covid-19 pandemic struck nearly a year ago, changing the face of non-league football on the Kent coast.
A full-time outfit on the verge of the play-off places 12 months ago, a drastic budget cut has seen Dover spend most of the season in the National League relegation zone.
Now, Dover chairman Jim Parmenter has had to put his players on furlough and pause their season as he can no longer afford to fund the season.
With step 2 football at National League South seemingly destined for null and void, it would effectively mean throwing money down the drain with no relegation in place.
“It’s sad as a football manager that it has come to this,” reflected Hessenthaler. “We knew that we had a challenge ahead of us, it started last March when we first went on furlough before we came back in the summer.
“When we returned, it was a part-time budget in a full-time league. The chairman was honest and said that he had to cut his cloth accordingly, we put players on the transfer list to try and cut the wage bill.
“It’s been a struggle and we are all accountable for that. We’ve only played 15 games but of course we could have done better.
“It’s never easy with all that’s been going on. We had two different Covid-19 isolation periods for 10 days so that was stop-start, and even in the last week or so we’ve had games called off for bad weather.”
Dover’s task to compete at non-league’s top table was always going to be tough this season.
But the cutbacks have demonstrated to Hessenthaler, just how far behind Dover are in a division that contains 11 former Football League clubs.
“We’re competing with big clubs with big infrastructure, clubs like Stockport, Notts County, Yeovil and Chesterfield,” he added. “They are top clubs and we are what we are.
“We knew it was going to be a struggle and it’s a massive challenge – a challenge that we all embraced.
“In the summer we had to go this way and bring young players in so they could stay full-time.
“We didn’t have a training ground for the first month of the season. We were training on the pitch and that’s taken its toll. Financially, we couldn’t afford to train anywhere else but thankfully the chairman was able to fund that.”
Finances play a major role. Dover were previously well-funded with a sizeable wage bill seeing them compete at the right end of the table.
But the lack of income has hit them particularly hard at a time when most people thought that fans would be back inside grounds by now.
“Playing at this level comes at a cost,” explained Hessenthaler. “It’s not just the wages, it’s the training ground, the travelling. With no fans, we’ve also had sponsors who can’t afford to back us at the moment, no hospitality or function rooms in use at matches – it’s not just the gate money we’ve lost.
“It’s a part-time budget, we’ve got a part-time groundsman, a part-time kitman – they don’t have that at other clubs, like your Notts County’s. But that was the challenge ahead of us.
“We’ve still got 29 games to go and I thought we were getting some consistency in our performances. Yes, we lost at Yeovil but there was improvement against Boreham Wood and Barnet and we just needed to sort that away form out.”