Just the other day I remarked on Twitter how much of a mess non-league football is becoming and there isn’t a single part of the lower level game that escapes being called that to at least a small extent.
From the National League right down to the very levels of true grassroots football things are looking very bleak for a lot of clubs to complete a season for the second year running and this week has seen the largest amount of unrest between the ‘elite’ clubs at Steps 1 and 2 with opinions divided and a lack of leadership and seemingly false promises coming from the top.
I’ve read so much over the past few days from clubs, people on Twitter, Facebook etc, club chairman and it’s hard to work out if the DCMS or the National League have been less than honest since that opening day in October that triggered player contracts.
It might well be both are culpable with blame but the results is their member clubs are the ones who suffer. Earlier on Friday having consulted clubs across all three divisions we now have a two week suspension across the North and South at Step 2 but Step 1 play on.
With clubs already confirming on Thursday an intention to not complete the weekend’s fixtures the NL board were left with little choice but to invoke the break to buy some time to get some assurances on the funding, it is also believed that the grants would help pay for testing which is currently not carried out by most clubs.
After the initial discussion of three options for National League clubs which comprised of either each club taking on a loan themselves, the league themselves taking on the loan and supplying the clubs with money drawn against future sponsorship payments or the season to be suspended, the consensus was to play on for the National League itself and the regional divisions to take a break.
The DCMS are adamant there was no conversation of agreement back in the late summer months of promised grant funding for the entire season, the National League board claim otherwise, the league itself have since withdrawn the option of taking on the loan themselves leaving options 1 and 3 left on the table.
Quite rightly club chairmen are refusing to saddle their clubs with debt and it must be remembered that we’re only talking about January-March funding currently. To complete the season we are now looking at a June finish, is this going to mean we’re going to be back at this same crossroads for the final months of the season?
It’s already been worked out that should there be a vote for suspension of the season to follow for all three divisions until the end of March then furlough for the government will cost £14 million compared to the £11 million the National League require, not only that we’re looking at £10 million of Lottery money wasted on the first three months of the season.
Clubs believed it was either a funded season or fans would return at some point, most say there isn’t a chance they would have kicked off the season if they knew we’d arrive at this point in time.
Having read more this weekend it appears the DCMS are digging their heels in, the FA and National League say they are in constant dialogue but without a change in the stance, there will be no money.
Whilst the North and South could follow the same pattern as last season we’re not close to 75% of completed games for PPG (points per game) to be triggered. As the remainder of non-league below them once again looks to be heading towards another null and void judgement, there would be no relegation from the regional divisions into Step 3.
For the top division it becomes a little more complicated I think with ramifications from the EFL when it comes to promotion to and relegation from League Two. But the same as the North and South they need funding to get as far as completing the season and to be able to test their players, it’s ridiculous to be classed as elite competition but not subject to the same testing levels as their higher paid counterparts.
Poor leadership and a keenness to get a competition played instead of looking after member clubs leaves a lot to be desired, but when the FA treats the rest of non-league football in the same vein, I guess it’s hardly surprising.
Where does it all go from here? Well, it rests on what the National League can gain from the two week suspension, if no change of mind from the DCMS which is what I am expecting, then I fully expect the season to be suspended for all National League clubs possibly until the end of March, not the situation we all want but no funding means clubs will feel the squeeze even more whilst no testing in place compromises player safety, however it goes we all want our clubs still here for the future and that goes for every club at every level, here’s praying for some common sense……..