The power of football and its Clubs has been undeniable for some time, its importance and influence increasing year-on-year and extending well beyond the 90 minutes on the pitch.
Now, that importance is more apparent than ever, with the positive impact of Clubs on their respective communities - including supporters, businesses and educational facilities - brought to the fore by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
With fans still unable to physically attend live games, both across the EFL's three divisions and up and down the country, the Clubs that have long provided almost unquantifiable support to those around them are now in need of support themselves, making it a crucial time for English football and the game as a whole.
The League's 2019 Community Impact study served to highlight the above, even before the outbreak of COVID-19.
Alongside the EFL's 2019 Supporters Survey, it showed the immense value and expectation placed on football by generations of people. It showed that football is an integral and traditional part of family and personal life, something evident since the League's inception in 1888. It showed that 36.6million people now live within a 10-mile radius of an EFL club, a radius which encompasses four in 10 residents who fall into the most-deprived population groups.
The reach of our Clubs and the difference they can make in turn is, therefore, quite incomparable. They've become far more than just Clubs.
In many ways, it's a reach which is as inescapable as it is incomparable. Those who are not necessarily football fans may well feel it as much as your average die-hard season ticket holder. A recent interview with a business local to Lincoln City Football Club indicated an increase of 200-300% in trade on Saturday matchdays, and so the knock-on effects of those being felt by the beautiful game are significant, even life-changing.
It's a reach acknowledged and acted upon by the players who are so idolised by fans young and old, players who drove almost £6m of value through just shy of 30,000 instances of involvement in community initiatives in 2018/19 alone. These are projects spanning health, education, social inclusion and anti-discrimination, to name just a few areas. Football has, and continues to, be a force for good, and the numbers back it up.
Just last week, Bristol Rovers defender Mark Little visited a local, unaffiliated club, after being made aware that one of the team’s young female players had been racially abused on several occasions at her school. An ambassador for Rovers' Community Trust, he responded immediately, showing the outreach of the club, player and charity in their community and beyond their own projects.
In the capital, Brentford’s new stadium has community in its name. It will deliver more than 900 new homes, a new purpose-built location for Brentford FC Community Sports Trust and a public square with shops and cafes. Then, from Peterborough to Preston and Burton to Bradford, Clubs have been offering support by providing thousands of children with free meals throughout half-term. The list goes on.
This pandemic is undoubtedly affecting all of us in different ways. The British Heart Foundation estimates the total financial cost to the NHS of physical inactivity to be around £1.2billion per year, but what of the mental toll? The EFL's official charity partner, Mind, recently revealed that more than half of adults and over two thirds of young people said their mental health has worsened during lockdown.
EFL Clubs are leading the battle against these issues across the country. In 2018/19, over 880,000 people participated in activity under the umbrella of an EFL club, including more than half of that number in sport or physical activity, and a further 154,000 in health and wellbeing initiatives. The adverse effects of communities losing such opportunities are unthinkable.
Every hour of every day, outstanding work is being carried out by EFL Clubs and their respective Club Community Organisations (CCOs).
Together, they are supporting young children, teenagers in education, football fans, the elderly, those in self-isolation, teachers, key workers and the homeless.
They are also providing a significant service to their local authorities, many of whom turned to their Clubs in the early weeks of the pandemic. Alongside this, the Clubs and charities are finding innovative new ways to fund raise to support their fans, councils and local charities. The adaptation of our CCOs has been phenomenal and will continue to evolve to meet the needs of our EFL communities.
From the outset of football's response, the safety of its communities has remained paramount and adherence to Government advice has been at the heart of the collective delivery.
There is another phase in motion that should be acknowledged, too. The EFL and its Clubs, alongside the EFL Trust network are cognisant and supportive of the Government’s approach to rebuilding communities in the aftermath of the pandemic and, as a result, are focusing not only on delivery at present, but also on the longer-term implications of coronavirus on communities and the requirement for an ongoing response.
The importance of EFL Clubs, now more than ever, should not be ignored. Their benefits, now more than ever, should be recognised.
Throughout the day, we'll be sharing more examples that show how communities have, and can continue to, benefit from the support of the football Clubs that represent them.
Join the conversation on social media - we're encouraging fans across the country to make their voices heard. Tell us what your club means to you and your community using #EFLCommunities.