National League: Clubs call for 'immediate suspension' of season

Concord Rangers
Concord Rangers reached the first round of the FA Cup this season, where they lost to League Two side Stevenage on penalties

Several National League clubs have joined calls for the season to be suspended until concerns over the funding of elite non-league sides and Covid-19 testing are addressed.

National League sides are being offered government loans to continue playing.

Teams started the season thanks to £10m in grants from the government.

However, clubs are worried about the financial implications of taking on loans to cover costs because of Covid-19 and competing behind closed doors.

The chairman of National League South side Concord Rangers said on Thursday his team will not play again until an agreement is reached, and Slough Town confirmed they do not intend to fulfil their fixture against Eastbourne on Saturday.

In all, 12 National League North sides - AFC Telford, Alfreton Town, Bradford Park Avenue, Blyth Spartans, Curzon Ashton, Darlington, Farsley Celtic, Gateshead, Guiseley, Kettering Town, Southport and Spennymoor Town - called for the league's "immediate suspension" in a statement on Thursday.

They have also called on the government and the football authorities to work together to resolve the problem.

''Whilst the integrity of the National League is important, we do not value this above the safety and wellbeing of our families, staff, volunteers or that of our heroic workers who are tackling this pandemic on the frontline," they said in a joint statement.

"We are calling for the immediate suspension of the league competition to allow the National League, Football Association and the DCMS (the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) time to find a solution that is acceptable to all.

"This suspension will allow us the time to lobby our respective MPs and carry out our own financial risk assessments against avoiding a Null and Void scenario.

"An inability to secure acceptable funding to cover Covid testing and the loss of fans will continue to render us insolvent and we are not prepared to prolong this beyond 29 January."

It comes after the league requested feedback from the 66 clubs of the National League, National League North and National League South prior to Friday's board meeting, where the next steps will be discussed.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has offered a further £11m in loans to National League sides as part of their £300m emergency funding package for sports hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Clubs met on Wednesday and were told that they would either have to take out loans or suspend their season.

Gate receipts are the biggest income stream for clubs in the fifth and sixth tiers of English football but they have not been able to welcome fans to their grounds since March.

Concord, who are 18th in National League South, were set to host Havant and Waterlooville on Saturday but that game has been postponed as The Hawks are self-isolating.

"I have chaired our club for just over 20 years and during that time we have never borrowed a penny and we certainly would not be looking to start now," chairman Ant Smith wrote on social media.

"My personal belief is that if we cannot get the DCMS decision overturned, then the season should be suspended, and a decision made on null and void or points per game."