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Gate Money: National League grant controversy in the spotlight as documentary premieres at Maidstone United's Gallagher Stadium

A documentary investigating the National League’s flawed distribution of a £10million grant during the Covid pandemic is about to be released.

Gate Money premieres at Maidstone United’s Gallagher Stadium on Friday (doors open at 6.30pm for a 7.30pm start; entry is free) and the man behind it says there’s still plenty of anger.

The 50-minute film, presented by Fred Atkins and directed by Jasper Spanjaart, explores what went wrong after the National League board overlooked government guidance to distribute the National Lottery grant based on lost gate receipts while football was played behind closed doors.

Instead, the formula used - which has never been publicly explained - saw many clubs handed money way beyond what they were entitled to while others were left heavily out of pocket.

Atkins speaks to vocal critics of the board at the time, including Maidstone, Chester and Dorking, and describes Tonbridge chairman Dave Netherstreet as “the unlikely hero of the whole story”.

He also sits down with the former FA chairman David Bernstein, whose independent inquiry - commissioned by the board but never published - was damning in its verdict.

All attempts to involve the National League in the documentary, which is due for release on YouTube, were snubbed, however.

Explaining the idea behind the documentary, Atkins, a former Kent Messenger sports editor, said: “There was this huge untapped reservoir of anger from people when they saw the way the money had been carved up.

“And it was never adequately explained why they did it, so that’s what we were trying to investigate.

“We got an enormous amount of co-operation from people who hadn’t made the decisions and absolutely no co-operation from people who had.

Fred Atkins investigated the National League funding fiasco for the online documentary Gate Money.
Fred Atkins investigated the National League funding fiasco for the online documentary Gate Money.

“It tapped into something. I thought we might get 6,000 hits for the trailer and we ended up getting 60,000 [in two days], so it shows there’s still a huge amount of anger out there.

“It was coming from all sorts of places that we didn’t anticipate as well.

“It was a massive achievement to get the £10m in the first place. Somebody, whoever it was, had done a very good job of bringing this grant in.

“So they had all that goodwill and it just evaporated in the space of five days because the promise they made, that they were going to dish it out to cover gate money, just vanished.

“As soon as they announced the way they were carving it up, the formula was inexplicable and they never made any attempt to explain.

“They refused our requests for interviews. We tried 12 people in total. Some of them just ignored us.

“We wanted to tell the story of what happened, to see if we could find out, and I think if anything it will just leave people more angry at the end of it than at the start.

“It wasn’t that complicated to come up with a formula and if they were finding it complicated, they should have been looking for someone else to help them.”

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