The decision to potentially pause the start of the National League season has sent shockwaves through the sport.
The season was due to begin on 3 October. But with cases of the Covid-19 pandemic on the rise again, it is looking almost impossible for fans to be able to attend non league football matches for at least six months.
With the start of the National League in chaos, many clubs in the league have already expressed their deep fears about whether they could survive the crisis. The National League will host a board meeting on Thursday where it hopes to come to a decision about the best ways to proceed with the season that is currently on pause.
National League chairman Brian Barwick had already gone on record as saying that, ’severe economic hardship’ would follow for all clubs if fans were not allowed to attend matches. Such a warning has already been backed up by many leading voices from National League clubs.
The Dagenham managing director Steve Thompson made it explicitly clear that the government should serve up a £20 million bail-out fund to stop these clubs from going out of business. This was swiftly followed up yesterday when the Gateshead chief Neil Pinkerton said that National League clubs would go bust unless an intervention is made by the government to save clubs playing lower-league football.
Pinkerton stated that these clubs had all invested a huge amount of money in paying for their players in the extended off-season. He also went on to say that a government bail-out package would give clubs in the National League a chance to play the upcoming season behind closed doors. What made matters all the more difficult was the fact that National League sides were given very little warning that the new legislation that banned the attendance of sporting events would come into effect.
The Chesterfield chief executive John Croot stated that nobody at his club had received any indication that the plans to allow fans to attend football matches was going to be called off. While Croot said that Chesterfield are ‘OK financially for the time being’, he also said that there are other National League clubs who are merely ‘weeks away from real issues’.
National League teams are hugely reliant upon the attendance of supporters for their revenues. The fact that matches would be played behind closed doors would mean that the clubs would still be featured on bookmaker sites featured at betting resources such as http://www.captaingambling.com, but it would raise big questions about how these full-time players would be able to get paid.
The 2019/20 National League campaign was brought to an abrupt halt as a result of the Covid-19 health crisis. Despite this, the play-off rounds in the three divisions were able to go ahead behind closed doors in July and August. The way in which the regular season was curtailed drew plenty of criticism, with clubs like York City feeling unfairly treated as a result of losing their automatic promotion due to the way that the predicted points were calculated.
At that time, the government was swift to support National League clubs with a furlough scheme that helped these sporting bodies stay afloat. North Gateshead was able to take advantage of the Job Retention Scheme to furlough their paid staff and save jobs. However, this scheme is currently planned to end right when the new National League season is expected to kick off.
This time around, there are no plans as yet to help clubs in lower leagues survive the winter period. Some have called for a bail-out scheme that would draw revenues from Premier League clubs. However, with even major Premier League clubs feeling the effects of the public health crisis, it is evident that National League teams aren’t going to get help from here. All of which paints a very troubling picture for the 67 teams that are currently playing National League football.