National League Clubs in England have been handed three potential options surrounding the future of the 2020/21 season, as stated in meetings held with board members.
National League Clubs to Share Opinions On Season’s Future
Season Postponement Amongst Three Options
Clubs in the fifth and sixth tier of English football have been handed a three-option ultimatum regarding what steps the league takes next, with teams told they can either source external funding, share a loan or abandon the 2020/21 season.
Addressing the clubs on Wednesday, acting General Manager, Mark Ives has asked all sides in the National League, National League North and National League South for feedback on the plan.
Clubs to Source Individual Funding, Share Loans or Cancel Season
Option one for National League clubs would be to source a loan from Sport England, which would be repayable at 2% interest over 10 years. The second option would see the National League itself apply for a loan off Sport England, distributing the funds through the leagues as a grant. Whilst option three suggests a complete suspension of the league, in order to allow clubs the ability to access the government furlough scheme.
Originally the season had not planned to begin in line with the Football League’s start date of September, as clubs believed it would not be financially viable to hold games behind doors without fans. A £10 million grant was handed to the league in October as part of a rescue-deal from the government, which saw the season start without fans in attendance.
The financial impact of no supporters was alleviated slightly for some clubs after the introduction of the tier system gave the green light for supporters to return to areas with low COVID-19 infection rates.
No More Grants Available
Still, for clubs in Tier 3, money started to become stretched. A further £300 million was made available for most spectator sports in England as part of a Winter Survival Package, with £11 million allotted to securing the futures of National League clubs.
But despite another national lockdown halting the return of supporters to stadiums once more, the government have ruled out any prospects of a further grant, leaving National League sides in a precarious position. This has lead to frustration amongst the board’s of many National League sides, as they had only agreed to start the season with the proviso that there would be constant access to funds.
National League clubs, who have been awarded elite sport status allowing competition to continue during the lockdown, face a potential second suspension to the league in as many seasons.
What Next for National League Clubs?
Following the cancellation of the 2019/20 season, the top-two levels of England’s non-league system decided their final league positions using the controversial ‘points per game’ method. Play-offs were held for the National League’s three divisions and a lucrative financial contribution was made by the Premier League to ensure the completion of the season.
According to Thomas Feaheny, if the 2020/21 season is suspended, it will be done with a view to resuming fixtures when it is appropriate to do so, thus no plan has been put in place to decide final standings yet.
There are conflicting ideas amongst the clubs as to what decision to take next, with some boards happy to accept the option of a shared loan, only if questions surrounding regular testing can be answered, whilst others are favouring a stop to play. It is believed that if the league was to stop and clubs were able to access the furlough scheme, it would hand them enough time and financial leeway to apply pressure on the relevant government departments.
National League’s Importance Within Football
The importance of National League clubs to English football cannot be understated. From FA Cup giant killings to the support they provide local communities, the security of England’s non-league’s system is crucial to the future of English football.
Whichever direction the clubs of the National League choose to move in, the lasting implications of the pandemic have already inflicted deep wounds and for most non-league sides every matchday that passes by without supporters in the stadium signals a step closer to extinction.
Talks between the clubs are expected to continue according to the BBC, with no plans in place to cancel the fixtures scheduled for the remainder of January or February.
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