The National League At Breaking Point

BY DARREN TINMOUTH: http://www.claretandbluepixels.wordpress.com

For non-league fans, the last 11 months have been draining. The covid pandemic has wreaked havoc with not just last season (and the subsequent null and void saga) but also this one. Except this time, we have games postponed en-masse by clubs that are unwilling to play fixtures without further financial support from either the authorities or the government.

And it’s through no fault of the clubs whatsoever, something non-league clubs have learned to their own massive costs.

LET’S REVIEW

To sow the seeds of the current crisis, we have to go back to September when the National League announced a funding package via grants totalling £10million for the first 3 months of the season, the money itself would come from the National Lottery. The distribution of these funds was controversial but paid they were.

The issue is the other three months of the season. Now I don’t know if there was a misunderstanding somewhere regarding the next round of funding, but word came out around Christmas that the DCMS (the government’s sports department) said the next round of funding would not be in the form of grants but instead through low interest loans.

Now understandably, the National League’s less affluent clubs (especially those in the second tier North and South divisions) cried foul with their anger directed solely at the National League’s board of directors. They were led to believe that the next round of funding would carry similar conditions to the first round. The DCMS have denied this and as far as the National League were concerned, there was nothing to say as even though these meetings took place, it appears minutes were not kept, a suspicion that drew huge anger from former AFC Wimbledon manager and Non-League Show regular, Dave Anderson.

Then came a major new twist on Sunday (February 7th) from Dover chairman Jim Parmenter

DOVER ATHLETIC: Chairman resigns from League board of Directors

To put it in short, he announced his resignation from his seat on the league’s board of directors and as you can see, used his resignation letter to deliver a scathing attack on the League’s decision making.

It’s definitely been chaotic, some would say utterly shambolic.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN? MY OPINION

I like many non-league fans have been keeping a close eye on the ongoing National League vote across the clubs to resolve the situation. To keep track of this, the twitter feed of Ollie Bayliss (presenter of the non-league show on the BBC’s Three-Counties radio) has been an invaluable tool. But first, I should have a go at explaining what the clubs are voting on.

Basically put, each of the National League’s 66 clubs have been sent a voting form with four resolutions, these are as follows

  1. CAN THE LEAGUES DECIDE INDEPENDENTLY?: if this resolution passes, then each of the three leagues will be allowed to vote as their own leagues instead of as a collective as to whether to continue the season or not. This needs a 75% majority in order to pass with Step 1 allocated 23 votes (one per club) and Step 2 as a collective receiving 8 votes, the threshold need to pass therefore would be 24 votes.
  2. SHOULD THE NATIONAL LEAGUE BE MADE NULL AND VOID?: If resolution 1 is passed then only the 23 National League clubs would vote on resolution 2, for the season to be voided, this would require a simple majority (i.e. 12 votes out of 23.) If the league is made void, then clubs at the bottom of EFL League 2 will be reprieved
  3. SHOULD NATIONAL NORTH & SOUTH BE MADE NULL AND VOID?: The passing of resolution 1 means all 43 Step 2 clubs in NL North and South get one vote each to decide the fate of their own season, again only a simple majority is needed (i.e. 22 votes out of 43). However, if the league is voided, there is currently no indication as to what would happen regarding promotion into the National League as noises have been made about the NL board wanting to have 24 teams in their top division come what may. Promotion into Step 2 from below would still be unclear as this would depend on the results of the FA Survey given out to the clubs at Steps 3 to 6 who had their seasons halted back in November.
  4. SHOULD THE WHOLE OF THE NATIONAL LEAGUE BE MADE NULL AND VOID?: If resolution 1 fails to pass, then all 66 clubs would jump to here with the same weighted voting structure as before however this time, instead of a 75% majority, a simple majority would be needed (i.e. 16 out of 31 votes). If this were to fail, then all 66 clubs would be ordered to fulfil their fixtures.

Me personally, the most likely outcome will be for the vote to make it to Resolution 4, and for that, I feel there is too much weight in favour of the bigger, ex-EFL clubs in the top division who want to continue, plus there is a smattering of clubs in step 2 that also want to continue which will likely split slightly the Step 2 allocation of 8 votes. In other words, I expect the league to agree to continue, not that I agree with it mind you. But there is a reason why they may be willing to try and complete the season, especially at the top division.

And that is to do with the relationship with the EFL. The National League has been fighting for many years to have extra promotion places into the EFL’s 4th tier, this has been going on ever since the league’s inception in 1979 when they were known as the alliance league. After 8 years of putting up with the heavily biased re-election system, they gained an automatic promotion spot in 1987 and then another spot in 2002 via the newly created playoffs. Ever since, they have been fighting to be given a further third promotion place into League Two.

But there have been rumours ever since the pandemic first hit that the NL fear their relationship with the EFL will be damaged and that promotion into the EFL may in-fact be reduced back to just the one spot. It’s one of the aspects of the football pyramid in England that makes me not be in favour of multiple organisations running different leagues, but that’s another argument for another day.

MORE UNCERTAINTY TO COME?

But there could be even more pain to come next season as well if the worst fears are realised

SKY NEWS: Restrictions Could Return in Winter 2021/22

Before the third lockdown was initiated in January 2021, the government’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty made a grim suggestion that restrictions may have to return next winter to control any infection rates and new variants that may circumvent the vaccine which is currently being rolled out. And as things stand, that is approaching 12 million people who have had the first of two doses.

Now that of course is a worst case scenario but let’s just imagine what could happen if that were the case. Would non-league football be forced to stop once again? If so, then would it be long enough for a THIRD season to be impacted and maybe curtailed? I mean one season voided is bad, two in a row is galling but a third could be absolutely catastrophic.

There was even talk on a breakfast news show on Monday (February 8th) with a scientist who said he would prefer the current restrictions in place to stay until cases drop to around 1,000 a day. In the last 3 weeks we’ve seen cases drop from the ultimate peak so far of over 60,000 on one day to the latest figure of around 16,000, a near enough 75% drop in the last 3 weeks.

It proves the current lockdown is working but it’s still a long way to go to get to a daily figure where the authorities can be confident enough to ease restrictions. And until then, it’s almost certain non-league clubs will not be allowed to admit fans and therefore, clubs will refuse to play.

THE FINAL WORD

To me, what this has shown is that yes, these are massively unprecedented times and yes, it is difficult to come to a conclusion that will please everybody. But speaking personally, questions need to be asked of the credibility of the National League’s top brass as to whether they are capable. And in that regard, I can fully understand many fans calls for the league’s chairman Brian Barwick to resign.

HARTLEPOOL MAIL: National League Chief Executive Quits

The resignation of the league’s chief executive Michael Tattersall surely must have given everyone warning signs that there was trouble ahead. Did he know that this issue regarding grants being replaced by loans would rear its ugly head? Did he knowingly jump ship before the doodie hit the fan? We’ll probably never know.

What is for sure though, the big losers in all of this, are the very factors that make these leagues what they are, the clubs and the fans. Hopefully fans will be able to return soon but, in the meantime, they like the clubs are left in complete limbo thanks to the chaotic way the game’s authorities have dealt with the current situation.

Thanks for reading, and as ever, stay safe.

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