03:09PM, Thursday 21 January 2021
Slough Town have called on the National League to suspend the season immediately after clubs were informed on Wednesday that loans were the only source of government funding available for completing the remainder of the season.
The league’s interim general manager Mark Ives presented clubs with three options on Wednesday - to access a long-term low interest loan, for the league to take on a loan and give grants to clubs – with future solidarity payments to clubs reduced, or suspend the season for a period, potentially restarting again when conditions are more favourable.
Clubs had until Wednesday night (January 20) to respond to the proposals with the league rescheduling another meeting with clubs today (Friday) as they seek to establish whether football in the three divisions can continue.
“What they’ve tried to do is pull the wool over some people’s eyes,” said Slough’s joint boss Neil Baker.
“Clubs can take out a loan, this is a complete non-starter for me, or the league will take the loan and give it to us as grants, but actually you’ll be paying for it anyway through your solidarity payments. Therefore It’s a loan dressed up as a grant. Then you’ve got suspension, but even if they suspend it, I can’t see our league finishing, unless they somehow get the DCMS to relent and pay as grants whilst sorting out the safety protocols that we do not feel are enough.
“I don’t blame the National League for doing what they did in the summer, in getting the 3 months grants to get the season started. They did it on the hope that things might be better, but that was then, and this is now. We’re in a worse position, more people are dying, and football shouldn’t be going on.
“We made our stand three weeks ago as a club. We shouldn’t be playing because there are more things in life than football. The level we’re at and the safety protocols just aren’t appropriate. More clubs are coming out and saying this, but it’s taken the double whammy of non grants for people to realise ‘what are we actually doing?’
“We’ll be going down option 3 (suspension) and if there was an option 4 to cancel the season, we’d have opted for that. We’ve got to discuss it, but I would be surprised if we’re playing again. I don’t see the harm in suspending the season for four to six weeks to see if anything changes, or to see if they can broker something else. Otherwise, it’s just not going to work.”
The Rebels called for the season to be suspended at the end of December, and yesterday joint manager Neil Baker called out the league for a ‘dereliction of duty’ after allowing clubs to saddle themselves with three weeks of payroll debt when they knew there was no funding deal in place.
He said he can’t see how the league can do anything other than suspend the National League South season, for a period at least.
The Rebels are due to visit Eastbourne Borough on Saturday, and Baker said the club now had a decision to make as to whether they should play the game or not when they could potentially face sanctions for not fulfilling the league fixture.
“We might take the decision not to play, and there could be sanctions that go with that,” he said. “We’ll have to cross that bridge in the next 24 hours or so, but there will be other clubs in a similar boat. We haven’t got money men at Slough. What comes in goes out. We don’t have debt and we’re not going to put ourselves in that position.
“The league will have to make a decision before the weekend, and I can’t see how they’ll do anything other than suspend. You’ll have a range of opinions but if they turned around and said everyone had to play, you might get some clubs who say they’re not willing to.
“Everyone buries their head when it comes to football and there’s a feeling that we’re entitled to continue playing. We’re not entitled to anything. We’re in strange and unchartered territory and, for me, the level of football is not important enough to continue. 1,800 people died yesterday. Football is not the be all and end all.
“I’ve heard less from the National Premier teams. More of them may be able to underwrite (the loan debt) to try to keep promotion and relegation to the EFL. That might happen at their level, but I can’t see it happening at our level.”
Clubs in the National League’s three divisions have already received £10m in grant funding from the National Lottery, after the Government brokered a special deal to tide clubs through to December. But, with four or five months of the season remaining, it’s unclear how many clubs will be willing to take on a loan to see themselves through to next season.
While the National League feels it is doing its best in a difficult situation, there is anger from clubs – particularly those in the National League North and South – who feel promises were made at the start of the season that they would be covered for all the time they were playing matches behind closed doors. Many have said they would not have kicked-off the season in October if they’d known this would not be the case.
A suspension is likely to have a negative impact on sponsorship and commercial deals for the league, and the BBC reports it could also lead to the loss of the National League’s elite status, the status that has enabled clubs to continue playing through the pandemic. During Wednesday’s talks clubs were told to maintain pressure on their MPs in the hope that the Government’s mind can be changed over the issue of grant funding.
“They should have suspended the league two weeks ago, when infections were going through the roof and they knew they had no funding in place,” added Baker.
“It would have enabled clubs to put their players onto furlough and it would have given the league an opportunity to sort out this funding.
“But in not saying anything they’ve lumbered the clubs with payroll for a month. If that had happened, I wouldn’t feel quite so bitter, but the fact they didn’t, when they knew they didn’t have funding in place, it’s a dereliction of their duties, but this is just my personal opinion.”
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