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Steve King: Everything is in place for North and South breakaway clubs to play on

Dartford manager Steve King believes promotion and relegation can still be competed for despite the Step 2 season being declared null and void

When the email from the National League landed in my inbox on Thursday evening, I knew what to expect when I opened it.

That didn’t prevent the feeling of disappointment, however, when I read confirmation the Step 2 season was to cease immediately and be declared null and void.

My feeling all along was that Step 1 would continue while we at Step 2 would stop. I’ve always believed we should be under the same umbrella but I suppose I was looking for a crumb of comfort and the last paragraph of the statement gave me that.

“The Board will take the resolution outcome to the Football Association for ratification. This will include dialogue regarding promotion and relegation.”

I realised quite quickly that can’t be referring to relegation from the National League North and South because we know almost for certain that Step 3 have finished. So, relegation can only be out of the National League into our divisions. For that to happen, there would have to be promotion from Step 2.

That started to get me thinking, ‘OK, this can happen’. Already we’ve seen lots of petitions going around, joint-statements from the clubs who voted against the resolution to stop – we are sticking together and that’s how it should be because we all want to play on. In the National League South, the majority of clubs voted to continue the season. We all respect the decision of the clubs who voted for null and void.

I agree, if it doesn’t benefit them financially they can step aside with no further punishment while those of us who want to can resume the campaign. Here’s a way I think promotion could still be maintained from the National League North and South divisions. The current results earned so far stand. Then, for the games remaining against teams that have pulled out, you automatically awarded three points with a 2-0 win.

We’ve all got similar fixture schedules from here on and that’s why it would work. Scrapping the results and starting again, just wouldn’t. It’s as I’ve said all along, as far back as last year when we were discussing the play-offs in the North and South – we are all as one in the National League. You can’t just pick and choose when you are a feeder to Step 1.

We’re a feeder to the National League, who are a feeder to the EFL. We all need each other. I remember last year the Football League saying, ‘If you don’t relegate from your National League, we aren’t comfortable relegating out of League Two’. Ultimately, that put Chorley, AFC Fylde and Ebbsfleet United down.

It must be the same scenario. I bet the EFL are looking in on this situation and saying, ‘If you want two promotion spots, you have to relegate as well’. So that, in my opinion, is what should happen. The National League South should play on with two spots and one from the North, because fewer teams wish to continue.

Then, with the National League playing their season to completion anyway, three can be relegated from their division, while two can be promoted and two relegated out of the Football League as usual. In a previous column, I said I thought they would find a way to keep Step 1 going and it will be interesting to see how many of the 19 clubs accepted for loans for a combined £5.4million so far, are from that division.

My club Dartford put out a brilliant statement explaining their stance of wanting to play on and pointing out, across the three divisions, a majority of clubs voted to continue the season. The co-chairmen Steve Irving and Dave Skinner, along with Tony Burman, have been fantastic and are very supportive.

As a club, along with 17 others, we’ve signed an open letter to the National League calling for a solution to be found. It makes sense. We have to do something to make it happen. It’s good we are. We should stand up for what we believe.

There are a lot of big hitters who have put their support behind the campaign – think of the investment made at clubs like York City, Gloucester City, AFC Fylde, Kidderminster Harriers. That’s important.

Another part is the government announcement that will set out the roadmap to come out of lockdown. Already we’re hearing about planned test events so I believe fans will be back in our stadiums sooner rather than later. Let’s take our time and see how it all pans out with the ‘R’ rate, the vaccination and the plan to come out of lockdown.

We could have suspended the season until the end of March to see what the picture was like and we still would have been able to complete the fixtures by playing in April, May, June and July, then starting the season again in September.

This year we started in October so it would still be a month earlier. There are solutions to everything. And I fully believe one can be found in this situation so the clubs who want to carry on can do exactly that.

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