Carlisle United have confirmed they will use money from player sales as a “cash cushion” in the early stages of the coronavirus crisis.

The Blues said they were “fortunate” to have funds they could fall back on as they face a period without matchday income.

The club, though, admitted that would only help with the “short-term disruption” of games being suspended and there were still uncertain times ahead.

Chief executive Nigel Clibbens also raised the prospect of some struggling rivals facing liquidation unless financial help is offered or HMRC show leniency.

On the playing side, meanwhile, United confirmed Chris Beech’s squad are continuing to train, with a session held away from Brunton Park today and players due to return to the ground later this week.

The Blues said nobody has so far shown symptoms of Covid-19 but “a small number” of players have reported “other minor general illness” and are currently staying away from the squad.

In other developments at Brunton Park, United confirmed they have:

  • Shelved all academy activities, including midweek training sessions for all age-group levels;
  • Kept open the ticket office and Blues Store but asked fans to buy items online or over the phone where possible;
  • Said the Neil Sports Centre is now out of bounds and halted on-site activities by United’s community sports trust;
  • Called for unity among everyone around the club and in the game in general to find a way through the crisis.

On a financial footing, United now appear to be relying on funds they have received for sales of players such as Jarrad Branthwaite, who joined Everton in January.

Their change of spending approach, under the eye of backers Edinburgh Woollen Mill, is also helping in these early days of adjustment. EWM have not yet responded to an invitation to comment.

Chief executive Clibbens said: “Following well-documented changes to our own financial approach, along with recent player sales, we are fortunate to have our own cash cushion to deal with a limited short-term disruption and guaranteed football fortune in the summer months.

“Many clubs will not be in our position, even in the coming weeks. 

“However, we are moving towards our vital season-ticket selling period for the 2020/21 season, and to the period where we secure new commercial deals.

“The cash from those activities is still absolutely critical to our finances over the summer closed season, and beyond – despite player sales. 

“The support we have in normal times is exceptional, but we are not in those times now. How our fans and business supporters react to the impact of the uncertainty when deciding whether to buy and support in 2020/21 is totally unknown.

“Indeed, how it impacts on their own finances and ability to support is unknown. This a major concern.”

Clibbens, speaking on the club website, issued the club’s first comment on what the immediate arrangements are for the players.

The director said: “Player areas at the club were cleaned thoroughly last Wednesday, and again on Friday, and there are plans to repeat that again in the next few days [even though the players have been away since Tuesday].

“Following the training break over the weekend, [head coach] Chris Beech has a schedule for his players and staff in mind. This included a training session today [held off site] and will include a return to using facilities at Brunton Park later in the week.

“Every club is taking its own view on what to do in the shutdown period. Some clubs are self-isolating, with a total player lockdown for a week or longer [even when they have no cases or symptoms]. Of course, Chris will be continually reviewing that as he monitors the situation. 

“We are taking a precautionary approach regarding staff and players, and anyone feeling even slightly ill is staying away from the club.

“We have no cases, or have had no people showing symptoms of the virus, but we have a very small number of players who have reported other minor general illness. As a precaution we have agreed their requests to stay away, as both we and they monitor their own situations.”

Last week’s statement by the EFL, Premier League and Football Association said academy games would be postponed in line with first-team fixtures.

United have today followed this by halting training from under-9 level upwards, which normally takes place on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

Clibbens added: “The Blues store will operate between 10am and 3pm on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and will be closed on Wednesdays and Sundays. This will be reviewed every day as we go on from here.

“For the ticket office and the Blues Store, we ask that business is done online, by email or by phone, where at all possible. Fans can make online shop purchases and items will be despatched as normal.

“This will assist us in reducing the amount of physical contact as we continue the process of social distancing. The telephone line is operating as normal for direct enquiries.

“We have taken the decision to suspend all activities in the Neil Sports Centre until further notice. Again, this is an extremely busy facility, with a quick turnaround of visitors who use the indoor pitch and changing rooms. We are sorry for the disruption – but we are sure you understand the need for us to take this action. 

“We have worked closely with the Carlisle United Community Sports Trust, who also use our facilities, and they have ceased all on-site community activities with immediate effect. They are reviewing their in-school activities in line with school operations.”

Clibbens said the club’s end-of-season dinner, scheduled for Sunday, April 26, was now “under review” and suggested it “looks inevitable” that it will be shelved.

On the financial side, the chief executive said there were some particular financial challenges facing the club and their peers as early as this week.

He said: “The first big financial challenge for clubs is coming fast – on Friday – with PAYE payments due to HMRC, quickly followed by end of month salary bills. We already know there will be no games before that date.

“A number of clubs have faced liquidation proceedings by HMRC, even in normal times, such is the ongoing fragility of football finances. That action comes quickly.

“After taking steps to protect players, staff and fans in their community by suspending games [under the instruction of EFL], the risk is more clubs [having minimal cash coming in] then face liquidation hearings in early April ... unless there is a change in HMRC policy, or more financial support to clubs.

“That is an immediate challenge for the EFL and Government, as well as for individual clubs. We are all in this together and we need to work together.

“As the delay continues, and on top of all that, practical matters also start to impact. Transfer windows, player contract expiry, loans ending, pitch work, planned summer events at clubs, the list goes on and all are affected.”

Carlisle have not yet commented on whether they are insured for any of the effects of the virus-enforced suspension of games, which is provisionally until April 3.

United will lose one home game in that period – this weekend’s game against Leyton Orient – but many in the game are sceptical that matches will be able to resume early next month.

Clibbens added that United have reduced the number of staff on site, with many encouraged to work from home.

Those still on site include ticket office and Blues Store staff, kitman and laundry assistants and groundsman David Mitchell.

Clibbens added that the club “faces a very volatile and unpredictable period” and said meetings involving those at the top of the game will “ripple down” to United’s level.

There is a UEFA meeting tomorrow, an EFL board meeting on Wednesday and a Premier League meeting on Thursday. The EFL today said no decisions had yet been made about the way forward and asked for calm heads as opposed to speculation.

Clibbens said people expressing strong views on what should happen need to look at the bigger picture.

He said: “Speculation about what happens next in terms of the football season is exactly that. Since [Friday] there has been a lot of opinion expressed, as is normal in football, and as expected we have seen the ‘planting of flags’ saying ‘what is best.’

“In my view, at a time like this, more than ever, those inside the game all need to look beyond narrow vested interests towards what is best for the whole professional game.

“Just as individuals are having to do exceptional things and look beyond what they personally want, and do what’s needed, we need to do the same, and show real solidarity and support for each other, and the game.”

He added that the situation with the impact of the virus remained very volatile and added: “Making decisions based on past or similar experience, or on what we think we know, is very high risk in this instance. In these circumstances, if we wait for evidence of what is right, events will have moved on again. 

“That is why in my view we must act fast and, if necessary, be prepared to be criticised for overreacting.  We will continue to take and make decisions in the best interests of our club, its staff and supporters using this approach.”