Leamington FC chairman Jim Scott has admitted that changes to the government’s Covid-19 regulations are a “severe blow to football fans”. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson halted plans to allow supporters to return to stadia from the start of October.
The 2020/21 National League North campaign was scheduled to begin in association with the re-opening of stadiums to spectators, with the Brakes set to begin their season at the Community Stadium on Tuesday 6 October against Boston United.
Reports suggest that the start of the National League season could be delayed as a result of the change in policy, with league bosses set to meet to discuss the topic this afternoon. According to non-league expert Ollie Bayliss, clubs in step two of the non-league pyramid would be especially vulnerable to starting the season without fans in attendance due to the nature of players’ contracts.
Brakes chairman Scott agreed, noting that upcoming FA Cup fixtures would further complicate matters. “One point for your general interest is that if clubs have players on contract (not yet activated) and they play in an FA cup tie on 3 October then their contracts will be activated for the whole season with significant costs to clubs.
“There are currently so many unanswered questions.
“Will crowds of up to a maximum of 600 continue to be allowed at Steps 3-7? What will happen to the FA Cup as Step 2 clubs currently have to play behind closed doors and we are due to enter that competition on Saturday 3 October? What decision will the National League make on commencement of the season and will clubs get an individual vote on that decision?”
The fantastic support already provided by fans means that we are under no immediate financial pressure
– Jim Scott
Scott added that the club had been successful in obtaining a £15,000 grant through the Football Foundation – which is funded by the Premier League – to ensure Leamington’s Community Stadium is compliant with Covid-19 legislation.
“We had deliberately held back on announcements regarding season tickets due to the uncertainty, and that has proved a wise decision in light of [this week’s] announcement,” Scott told Leamington supporters.
“We did not wish to take fans’ money when there are so many unknowns. The fantastic support already provided by fans means that we are under no immediate financial pressure.
“In fact, the view of the board is that the uncertainty is not going to go away and thus we will not be introducing season tickets. We will instead be introducing a very, very low-cost membership scheme aimed at ensuring that our fans have priority on ticketing when you are finally allowed back in stadiums.
Chesterfield chief executive John Croot has said that nobody at the club had been given advance warning that the government intended to scrap the October strategy, calling the news a “bombshell.”
“Sadly I think there’s an inevitability that some clubs will go out of business
– Darryl Eales
National League chairman Brian Barwick previously warned that he feared clubs “would suffer economic hardship” if supporters were not allowed to return to stadiums imminently, due to teams’ reliance on matchday revenues.
Solihull Moors chairman Darryl Eales has argued that not starting the National League season would be “cataclysmic.” Eales added: “Sadly I think there’s an inevitability that some clubs will go out of business.”
The 2019/20 National League season was ended prematurely due to the coronavirus pandemic, although play-off games in its three divisions were played behind closed doors this summer. In order to be able to stage the playoffs, the National League asked to be recognised as an “elite” sport by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.