London (AFP) – English Football Association chief Greg Clarke issued a stark warning over the economic carnage caused by the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday, calling on players and fans to “share the pain to keep the game alive”.

It comes after the head of the union representing Premier League players said they had “agreed to play their part” as pressure mounts to find a collective pay deal.

Clarke, speaking at an FA Council meeting, said football faced economic challenges “beyond the wildest imagination of those who run it” as a result of the health emergency.

“We face the danger of losing clubs and leagues as finances collapse,” he said. “Many communities could lose the clubs at their heart with little chance of resurrection.”

Clarke called on players, fans, clubs and owners to “step up and share the pain to keep the game alive”, saying even wealthy Premier League clubs were not immune.

England’s top-flight stars have come under heavy fire over their lack of action, which contrasts sharply with significant pay cuts taken by players at other leading European clubs such as Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

The Premier League has proposed wage cuts of 30 percent but talks have hit a stumbling block, with the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) warning that Britain’s National Health Service could suffer from the loss of tax receipts.

World governing body FIFA has urged players and clubs to reach agreement over wage reductions and players are reportedly set to start negotiations on a club-by-club basis.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock was among senior politicians calling for players to take a cut and “play their part”, a call that sparked angry reactions from former players.

A poll conducted by polling company YouGov last week found 92 percent of respondents said they backed a pay cut. 

PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor told the BBC that the players had agreed to do their bit, adding they were “responsible enough” to know wages were a factor in any club’s expenditure.

“We’ve been consistent with what we’ve said from the beginning and the fact is the players feel quite aggrieved that the Secretary of State for Health should put them in a corner without looking,” he said.

But he repeated concerns that public coffers would be hit as a result of the deal proposed by the Premier League.

Taylor, 75, is reportedly not taking a cut to his own £2 million annual salary.

“The PFA will make donations and the PFA is involved in the players’ charity,” Taylor told the Guardian when asked if he would accept a reduction in salary.

Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said it was unfair to single out footballers over the issue of pay cuts.

“It’s unfair to call on any individual or footballers as a group because I already know players do a great amount of work in the community, and players are doing a lot to help this situation,” he told Sky Sports.

– Spurs under pressure –

Tottenham have come under pressure from fans to follow Liverpool in reversing their decision to use public money to pay employees.

Liverpool, the European champions and the world’s seventh richest club, ditched their controversial plan to furlough some of their non-playing staff during the coronavirus on Monday after coming under intense pressure from ex-players and fans.

Liverpool chief executive Peter Moore wrote an open letter to supporters apologising for the decision.

The Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust once again urged the club to follow suit and overturn the decision to furlough some non-playing staff.

Newcastle, Norwich and Bournemouth are the other Premier League clubs to have announced plans to use the government’s furlough scheme and they were joined by Scottish club Rangers on Monday.

The Ibrox first-team squad along with manager Steven Gerrard, his coaching staff and the club’s executives have also agreed to accept wage deferrals for three months to ensure non-football staff receive their incomes in full.