Government accused of ‘moving goalposts’ over National League funding

This season’s National League remains under serious threat of being cancelled after the Government were accused of “moving the goalposts” over funding.

National League, National League North and National League South clubs met on Wednesday to discuss their options after the Government insisted any future funding to help them through the coronavirus pandemic would be in the form of loans rather than grants.

The National League received £10million from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to allow the season to start back in October, but that has now run out and with little prospect of income being generated by supporters returning to grounds, clubs say it is not viable for the campaign to continue.

Three options were given by interim general manager Mark Ives on how to proceed via six Zoom calls on Wednesday. They can either apply for individual loans, share an £11m central loan paid to and distributed by the league and receive less income in the future, or cancel the campaign.

Feedback from the 66 clubs is being collected on Thursday ahead of a board meeting on Friday, with a suspension to the league looking increasingly likely.

National League South side Concord Rangers have said they will not play any more games until they receive clarity on their options, while Slough Town have said they will not travel to Eastbourne on Saturday and have called on the cancellation of the league before the weekend.

Dagenham managing director Steve Thompson has urged the Government to reconsider their plans, saying clubs only agreed to start the season on the understanding more grants would be available if supporters were not allowed back into stadiums.

“I have got no idea how that is going to play out,” he told the PA news agency. “My own view is that I don’t see how the league can take out an £11m loan. It is not viable and putting that burden on clubs over the next 10 or 20 years, I think it is morally wrong.

“But I also think it is morally wrong that the Government have put us in this position. A lot of our clubs wouldn’t have started the season had they thought this was going to be the position.

“Talk about moving the goalposts halfway through the season. How anyone can think that we needed grants to start the season but we can manage with loans for the rest of it? The league and the clubs are never going to be able to pay those loans back.

“The money we are asking in grants is going to be less than it would cost the Government when we furlough all of our staff and players. That is the thing I can’t understand.

“A cancellation is the last thing I want, but it will be the unwanted consequence of what has happened.

“The general view is everyone thinks this is wrong and we need to persuade the Government to change their minds. It’s not too late to keep our season going, but if we don’t then the consequence will be the season is cancelled.

“I don’t want that, nobody wants that. I just want what we were promised.

“If we can get enough MPs on our side they have got to start listening to us.”

Slough, who are second from bottom in National League South, posted their response to Ives on their official website, which read: “We would support OPTION 3, which is, as you know what we have been suggesting for some time now.

“Neither Option 1 or 2 make any sense from a business perspective and we are not prepared to put our club into a long-term financially unsustainable position by taking loans or a grant which is repayable (which is in effect what Option 2 is).

“Given the need for a speedy decision on the part of the clubs, we would expect that a similarly quick decision will be taken by the board and any suspension to be in place before Saturday.

“By playing fixtures on Saturday, clubs will have to pay their players an additional week and in our case, incur the biggest travel cost of the season. As soon as the decision is made to suspend, we can move our players to furlough, thus avoiding further costs, if the decision is to suspend, it MUST be made immediately.

“As a club we will go as far as to say that we do not propose to travel to Eastbourne on Saturday to fulfil a fixture which could be meaningless, incur unnecessary costs and put our players at risk.

“We will have a separate discussion regarding Saturday with the fixtures team and also with Eastbourne, but our position is clear. The issue can be avoided, by making your decision prior to the weekend.”

Concord chairman Anthony Smith also wants answers on coronavirus testing as the National League is the only elite competition not receiving regular Covid-19 screening.

Smith wrote on Twitter: “On further reflection of the meeting yesterday, our club will not be competing in any further fixtures within the National League South until we have clearer information on: Financial support on the regular testing of players and staff (we are the only ‘elite’ competition that are not doing this) and financial support as discussed in yesterday’s meeting.”