Notts County and fellow National League clubs haven’t had fans in Meadow Lane since March Pic: PA Images
NOTTS COUNTY manager Neal Ardley is adamant the National League season must kick-off on October 3 and warned of the dire consequences if it doesn’t.
With the government announcing new restrictions in light of rising positive coronavirus cases across the country, the planned October return for fans to ‘elite sports’ has been put on hold.
The National League at Steps 1 and 2 of the National League System fall into that category as the key factor in being allowed to play their 2019-20 play-offs to conclusion behind closed doors.
Currently the three divisions are caught in a No Man’s Land between the EFL, who have started without fans in stadiums and Steps 3 down who are allowed limited numbers through their gates.
The National League planned their season start in October in anticipation of fans being allowed back in.
In a speech on Tuesday night, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the restrictions could last for the next six months.
And that’s why Ardley believes the campaign must get underway and not be delayed any more.
“The Government have made it quite clear this isn’t a two-week job,” Ardley said, following their FA Trophy semi-final defeat to Harrogate Town on Tuesday night.
“If you’re delaying it, why are you delaying it? What are you delaying it for? Are you giving the Government three weeks more to then decide whether to allow fans back in? I don’t understand what the delay would be for.
“Because, ultimately, we are six weeks behind already and playing catch up. The Government have just said, quite clearly, this could be up to six months.
“We are now going into flu season, we are going into cold season, it is only going to get tougher.
“The two things I took out of Boris Johnson’s speech were, this could go on for six months – which totally takes out any question of this being a delay, it’s almost a write-off of the whole season. So it’s not a delay. That word delay doesn’t count.
“The second point is, the Government said, ‘We will be talking to sports authorities on how we can support this’. So that gives a glimmer of hope there might be some support coming.
“And I still am adamant that if people think outside the box and get their house in order as far as streaming games and charging fans – fans will support this, they want to watch their team. If that’s the way they have to watch it, they will support their club.
“I’ve already spoken to Harrogate about how they’re finding the streaming and they say they can take good money from it. Add that to some help from the Government.
“We can’t fold and say, ‘Right, that’s it, we haven’t got what we wanted, season is over’. What sort of mentality is that?
“We have to come together and find a way. Too many clubs at the moment are saying, ‘That’s it, we’re not willing to play’. Actually that is the worst case scenario for everybody. Players are on wages, there’s no furlough scheme, it’s just nonsense.
“All the leagues above us have started. All the leagues below us have started. There are only two leagues (levels) in the middle that haven’t. If they say we’re not letting you start, they’re restricting the trade – it’s ludicrous.”
Ardley says the consequences of the season not taking place are unimaginable.
Notts County manager Neal Ardley Pic: PA Images
“There would be no football club,” the Notts County boss said. “We’re having a tough time, I’m sure the chairmen are. We’re all struggling through this.
“There are people losing loved ones, which is most important. There are people losing their livelihoods, which is second most important.
“But we’ve got to explore every way to play football and find solutions to struggle through this period. Not just give up and say, ‘That’s it’. It’s not a delay, it’s six months potentially. It’s not going to change.
“I asked the question yesterday in the managers’ meeting what Plan B is if fans aren’t allowed back in – because we didn’t know yesterday. The response I got was, ‘There isn’t one’.
“We’ve been in this situation long enough, I think we can all see what is coming around the corner. I’ve said it for a number of weeks now, while I want fans in, I can see it’s going to be very difficult to put fans in with the restrictions up and down the country.
“We should have been thinking of all the solutions to keep clubs going and leagues going. It doesn’t look like we have.”