Image: Dean Williams Media
Image: Dean Williams Media

Save Our Season: only grants will protect the National League

The National League faces an existential threat in the coronavirus. Fifth and sixth tier clubs have been rocked by the pandemic, starved of matchday revenue since March. Eleven months into the crisis, the non-league pyramid is on a collision course with Whitehall and financial meltdown.

The government must act quickly to save the National League and the competitions beneath it. The heart and soul of English football is at stake – and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) has the power to save it.

At the start of the season, National League clubs were given assurances that the government would provide grants for as long as fixtures are held behind-closed-doors. The first round of funding has expired and decision-makers in Westminster have offered clubs loans instead of grants.

The regionalised second tier is currently on hold after clubs voted against taking on individual loans. The National League, the division directly beneath SkyBet League Two, is still ongoing. Non-elite football, every tier below the National League pyramid, was suspended at the start of last month.

Clubs thought they would be entitled to grant-based support until the return of fans. Jim Scott, the chairman of Leamington FC, said as much in an open letter yesterday.

We would never have placed our clubs’ futures in jeopardy

– Jim Scott

“We are hugely grateful for the government support already provided,” Scott wrote. “But [National League owners] would never have placed our clubs’ futures in jeopardy if we had been advised of funding being in the form of loans, we would have just mothballed our clubs for the season.”

Teams from both National League divisions have backed a petition calling on Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden to provide financial support in the form of grants. If the government does not change its stance, a null-and-void outcome is highly possible.

“All clubs started the season on the understanding that grants would be in place if crowds did not return,” Scott noted yesterday evening (1 February). “Whatever the understanding of the National League/FA/DCMS was on funding post-New Year, the reality is that clubs’ futures are endangered through being caught in the middle of a dispute between those three bodies.

“If we had been advised that future funding was in the shape of loans none of the clubs would have commenced the season.”

In the meanwhile, National League clubs have been asked to vote on a raft of resolutions “to consider the outcome of the 2020/21 season.” Member clubs have 28 days to cast their ballots, a premature end to the campaign is very much on the table.

We’re now only asking the government to extend the support that they originally offered

– Dagenham & Redbridge

Step one outfit Dagenham & Redbridge is vocal in its support for the National League-wide petition. “The effect that this pandemic has had on all our 66 community clubs is immeasurable and we’re now only asking the government to extend the support that they originally offered,” a club spokesperson said.

Ultimately, the National League is heading hurtling towards a second curtailed season in succession. Last year, the campaign was decided by points per game (PPG) and the Playoffs took place. This season could be scrubbed from history altogether.

There are two reasons why the null-and-voiding the season is an unacceptable outcome.

First, cancelling the campaign would mean the National Lottery’s autumn grant was wasted. National League clubs would have battled through a winter of supporter-less football for no justifiable reason. Ending the season early would mean wasting taxpayers’ money and everyone’s time. A second round of grants would allow National League clubs to finish what they started.

Second, voiding the season would devastate the football pyramid and decimate the idea of sporting merit. Clubs beneath the National League system had their dreams put on hold last year, it would be unbelievably cruel to deny successful sides promotion again.

Community clubs are unwilling to take on debt inflicted by the pandemic

A null-and-void outcome would have ramifications on promotion to the English Football League. The financial stakes involved for clubs fighting for promotion from the National League are huge.

Unless the government steps in with a number round of grants; the National League’s future will grow dimmer.

Community clubs like Leamington are unwilling to take on unnecessary debt inflicted by the pandemic. As the Brakes’ chairman noted in his statement yesterday, National League clubs are a community asset. Owners must protect their clubs’ long-term future above all else.

“We are at the heart of the community,” Scott told the government yesterday. The chairman is right, Leamington FC is more than just a football club. The Brakes provide community coaching, a path into football, and wellbeing provisions in local schools.

The outcome of the 2020/21 season is less important than the longevity of clubs like Leamington.

The Boar Sport’s editorial position is clear. Grants Not Loans. Save Our Season.


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