Non-league football: Football Association to discuss coronavirus and how to resolve season

By Simon StoneBBC Sport
Notts County and Eastleigh players
Notts County faced Eastleigh in one of six National League games to go ahead on 14 March - the first Saturday after Premier League and EFL games had been suspended

The Football Association are meeting with key figures in non-league football this week to discuss the fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic and how to resolve the season.

Senior officials from the National League met with the FA on Monday, with the other leagues due to speak with the governing body later this week.

The National League called fixtures off on 16 March after controversially playing on for an additional weekend after the Premier League and EFL had called a halt to their fixtures.

However, as with the rest of the non-league pyramid, the competition is now in a state of flux.

Technically, matches have only been postponed until 3 April. However, given the professional game has called off fixtures until 28 April, it is inconceivable non-league matches will resume before then, which is after the scheduled end of their regular season.

It is against that backdrop what BBC Sport has been told are "consultation and scenario-planning" discussions with the FA are taking place.

The major difference with the professional game is that most non-league clubs cannot afford to carry on paying contracts if they have no idea when, or if, games will take place.

It has raised the possibility of the season being brought to a premature end, with all of the issues around promotion and relegation that would bring.

And, given uncertainty around when the EFL would finish, there is a further difficulty around the National League promotion slots if an early conclusion is decided.

As the EFL went through this season with 71 teams following Bury's expulsion last August, at least one side has to be promoted, with a second going up through the play-offs as it presently stands. That would mean League Two's bottom club, currently Stevenage, going down.

However, speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live on Saturday, EFL chairman Rick Parry said the idea the current season would finish in July and the next one start as planned in August was "wishful thinking".

It means the National League could yet end up starting their 2020-21 campaign before EFL clubs have finished this season, given the commitment within the professional game to complete the season at some point.

As Barrow are currently four points clear of Harrogate at the top of the table, with nine games remaining, one possible option would be to scrap the play-offs completely, promote the Cumbrians as "champions" and allow Stevenage to remain in League Two.

This might be greeted with dismay by Barrow's two nearest challengers, Harrogate and Notts County, and it is clear hard decisions will have to be taken by the game's authorities.

"These are unprecedented and challenging times for all industries around the world, and football is no different," said an FA spokesperson.

"We continue to work tirelessly with the football community, across every level of the game, to assess the impact of the coronavirus, whilst taking the important steps to support the welfare of clubs, players, staff and supporters.

"During this consultation period with our football stakeholders, we will continue to follow government advice and provide ongoing support for the game as we plan for football to resume when it is safe and possible to do so."