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National League North and South seasons on hold for two weeks

Bradford Park Avenue v Curzon Ashton – Vanarama National League North – Horsfall Stadium
(Image credit: Dave Howarth)

Matches in the National League North and National League South divisions have been suspended for two weeks with immediate effect.

The news comes following a league board meeting on Friday after 12 National League North clubs had called for the season to be halted.

A National League statement read: “Following the review of the feedback from clubs in connection to the recent clubs meeting, a board meeting this morning decided to halt the participation in the North/South Divisions for a two-week period, effective immediately.

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“As a result, tomorrow’s games are formally postponed.”

The futures of the National League, National League North and National League South were thrown into serious doubt when the Government, who had provided a £10million rescue package in October, said any future funding would have to be in the form of loans rather than grants.

However if a club demonstrates it is in critical need of support and cannot repay a loan, grant applications will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

At a meeting on Wednesday, all 66 clubs across the three divisions were given the option of taking an individual loan from the Government, taking a centralised loan from the National League, or cancelling the season.

A large number of clubs, including half of the National League North, chose the third option and called for the league to be scrapped before this weekend where they would have incurred more costs and – without any coronavirus testing – put themselves at risk.

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Telford, Alfreton, Bradford Park Avenue, Blyth, Curzon Ashton, Darlington, Farsley Celtic, Gateshead, Guiseley, Kettering, Southport and Spennymoor Town all joined together in signalling their intent for the National League North season to be stopped.

A joint statement read: “Whilst the integrity of the National League is important, we do not value this above the safety and wellbeing of our families, staff, volunteers or that of our heroic workers who are tackling this pandemic on the frontline.

“Furthermore, we have now been asked to consider loans against our clubs and we are quite simply not prepared to trade whilst insolvent.

“Therefore, we are calling for the immediate suspension of the league competition to allow the National League, FA and the DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) time to find a solution that is acceptable to all.

“This suspension will allow us the time to lobby our respective MPs and carry out our own financial risk assessments against avoiding a Null and Void scenario.

“An inability to secure acceptable funding to cover Covid-19 testing and the loss of fans will continue to render us insolvent and we are not prepared to prolong this beyond the 29th January 2021.

“We are duty bound as mere custodians of our clubs and will do everything we can to ensure we do not place any avoidable further financial burden now or in the future upon our community assets.

“Quite simply, 66 clubs would not have willingly participated in any footballing competition which initiated playing contracts, without assurances.”

The Government’s winter survival package is worth up to £300million in total and is comprised mainly of loans but also some grants.

The National League, National League North and National League South are under severe threat

The National League, National League North and National League South are under severe threat (Mark Kerton/PA)

How it is distributed is decided upon by an independent board, with grassroots sport funding body Sport England then administering the payments.

Sport England said in a statement: “We are continuing to work closely with DCMS and impacted sports on the delivery of the Sport Winter Survival Package. Those applicants in most urgent need of support are being prioritised, and conversations with other eligible applicants are continuing.

“The Independent Board continues to consider applications at speed and are meeting regularly through to the end of March. We cannot comment on specific awards whilst discussions remain ongoing.”

Concord Rangers and Slough Town were two clubs in the National League South who had said they would not play their weekend games.

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Concord chairman Anthony Smith claimed the National League had made threats of expulsion if they did not fulfil their trip to Eastbourne.

Smith said via the club’s account on Twitter: “I can confirm that we will not be retracting our position. We as a club will not be fulfilling any fixtures until we have further clarity following Wednesday’s meeting.

“I must express my disappointment that the Board have not taken the opportunity to suspend competition today and then alleviate sending threats of expulsion.”

He then added on his personal account: “The threat of expulsion is a further embarrassment to the league from where I am sitting….Sometimes you have to respect other peoples decisions and not try and bully them into something they are not happy with..”

A DCMS spokesperson said:  “It is untrue to suggest funding to the National League was ever promised as all grants and they have been unable to substantiate this claim.

“In October we brokered a unique deal with the National Lottery to provide a £10 million cash injection to keep Step 1 and 2 clubs afloat, and recently announced another £11 million in low interest loans to support them in line with support offered to other sports.

“If any individual Step 1 and 2 National League club can demonstrate it is in critical need of support and would be unable to repay a loan, grant applications will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. This will of course be through the same rigorous process that we apply to other sports.”