National League South clubs reflect on two-week League suspension

Saturday 23rd January 2021

There will be no football played in the Vanarama National League North and South for two weeks due to concerns over funding.

It was thought that the UK Government were going to provide funding for its 66 member clubs but that will come as loans instead and that has caused an uproar in boardrooms up and down the country.

The UK Government distributed £10m to National League, National League North and National League South clubs to soften the blow - but their next contribution will be coming as loans and not funding.

A National League statement said yesterday: “Following the review of the feedback from Clubs in connection to the recent Clubs meeting, a Board meeting on Friday morning decided to halt the participation in the North/South Divisions for a two-week period, effective immediately.”

Dartford sit three points clear at the top of the Vanarama National League South table and all things are going well at Princes Park under Steve King’s expert knowledge of the division.

“The decision by the National League board to suspend the fixtures in the National League North and South (but not the top division) has come as a great shock and disappointment to all of us,” said Dartford co-chairman Steve Irving in a statement on the club website.

“It seems that the ‘vast’ majority of clubs in the North and South called for suspension. We were not one of them.

“Although not wanting to take on any type of loan as a club and most certainly not wanting to rely on a loan to the League to be distributed fairly and equitably, we did very much want the league season to continue.

“We have been in contact with our Member of Parliament, Gareth Johnson, gaining his support in approaching the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.  The hope being that the second tranche of financial support can be in the form of grant aid (as with the first tranche) to avoid any clubs having to saddle themselves with debt to survive.

“This suspension may give time for the League to negotiate a change to this funding channel and for this reason, we support a temporary suspension.

“Our overriding desire is to ensure that we continue to keep everybody involved in putting matches on in these terrible times as safe as we possibly can. The stringent protocols we have put in place are managed and monitored with great care.  With this in mind, we very much want to continue the season as soon as possible.

“Our undying thanks must go to our staff and supporters’ association for all their hard work in achieving this.

“This great Club was founded by the great Community of Dartford in 1888 and rescued in 1992.  Our supporters are the lifeblood of the Club and are missed terribly by everybody associated.  I for one can’t wait for the day when we can open the gates again and be together supporting the team as one.

“Thanks go to all of our supporters’ for their continued support in these strange and worrying times. We will do our very best to keep everyone engaged and informed as to what happens next.”

The owners of Maidstone United have written to the National League with their views of the Government’s Winter Survival Package.

In a statement, posted on the club website, Terry Casey and Oliver Ash said: “We have noted the statements made by the National League regarding the alternative funding options available in principle.  These currently have insufficient detail to enable an informed choice to be made.

“Maidstone United would prefer to finish the season uninterrupted.  This is, of course, subject to any event in the Covid virus and its future severity.

“We have been placed in the category of an ‘elite’ football club; we therefore have some responsibility to our supporters, business partners, staff and players to complete the season if it is at all possible.

“Maidstone United are not in favour of applying direct to Sport England for a loan, which will leave our club with an outstanding debut in our annual accounts for many years to come. We have managed for years with virtually no external debt and we continue to favour this business practice.

“We would, however, be prepared to accept the proposal of receiving a grant paid through the National League and acknowledge that as a result there might be less money available for distribution to clubs from the National League central fund over the forthcoming years.

“We would not be prepared to accept a grant from the National League if the method of distribution to clubs was the same as was used for the three months of October, November and December 2020.

“Any future grants must take into account the allocation deficit sustained by our club (and others) over the last three months due to the National League Board’s decisions. This deficit is specifically confirmed by the Independent Review Panel’s revised allocation table.

“The way that the National League shared the £10 million, given so generously by Camelot, has proved to be grossly unfair and has brought a number of well-supported clubs into financial distress, as well as raising many so far unanswered questions regarding the governance of the National League.

“On the clear understanding that the National League distributes the £11 million fund using the methods and recommendations of the Independent Review Panel then we at Maidstone United would in principle agree to continuing the season.”

Tonbridge Angels revealed that they had voted in favour of suspending the National League South.

The Longmead Stadium outfit said that it was “a unanimous decision” from their board to recommend option three, which was a suspension of the National League 2021-22 season.”

Chairman Dave Netherstreet told his clubs website: “With no real certainty as to when restrictions will be eased or lifted completely, to commit to unknown levels of debt whether direct or indirect seems to us a dangerous and foolhardy path down which to proceed.

“We want our supporters to be able to return to a thriving community club once this terrible pandemic is over.”

Representations are being made by the club to the Government via their local MP, Tom Tugendhat, regarding the “funding of the National League.”

Welling United sit at the foot of the National League South table with one win and five draws from their 11 games and appointed Steve Lovell as their new manager on 14 January to replace Bradley Quinton, who had a year in the Park View Road hot seat.

Chairman Mark Goldberg told his club website: “I would like to announce our disappointment that the season has been suspended for a minimum of two weeks as the new management team have settled in brilliantly and already got three good training sessions under their belt.”

Lovell has signed Scott Doe, Kristian Campbell, Dominic Vose, Olumide Durojaiye and Anthony Cook in a bid to avoid relegation to the Isthmian League Premier Division, which is currently under suspension.

Goldberg added: “We are unfortunately sorry to have had to release the following players in order to prepare properly with a core playing squad to build for the future.

“Finn O’Mara, Billy Bennett, Lanre Azeez, Ryan Blackman and another five who were previously invited in to train with the club by the previous management team.

“We, in any event, will be well prepared for a restart as and when it is announced.”

However, games in the National League top-flight division carry on as planned.

Dover Athletic are at the foot of the table and Andy Hessenthaler’s men have banked seven points from their 12 games but they do have games in hand on the rest of the division.

The Whites welcome midtable side Solihull Moors to Crabble today, announcing that they have extended the loan deal of Hull City midfielder Ryan Hanson, 20, until the end of the season.

Goalkeeper Tom Smith, 18, has returned to parent club Arsenal, so Hessenthaler has brought in a loan replacement in the shape of Crystal Palace stopper Oliver Webber, 20.

Bromley were supposed to be travelling to FC Halifax Town today but the game has been reversed to Hayes Lane due to pitch issues at The Shay.

Neil Smith’s side are in tenth-place in the table with 22 points from their 14 league outings and are just a point adrift of the play-offs.

Striker Michael Cheek, goalkeeper Mark Cousins and defender Chris Bush have all extended their contracts to stay at Hayes Lane until the end of next season.

Former Southend United, Northampton Town, Carlisle United and Concord Rangers midfielder Jack Bridge, 25, has signed for the club and has been given the number 24 shirt for Bromley.

All games that do go ahead are currently being played behind closed doors due to Covid-19 restrictions and will go down as the forgotten season.