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What next for non-league?

Uncertainty remains over the future of the 2020-21 season at non-league level, as clubs have been responding to consultations via the FA and the National League.

The National League has been asking its clubs for their views on whether the season should finish, and whether the National League at Step 1 could continue while the season in the North and South Divisions at Step 2 could cease. Clubs have up to 28 days to return their votes, and a final decision will be announced some time later this month.

Clubs at Steps 3 to 6 have been consulted by the FA on the most feasible options available to determine the outcome of the season, after leagues were suspended by the national lockdown at the beginning of January.

We understand that a very high response rate to the consultation means that the FA committees responsible for non-league will have the full range of opinions, from almost all clubs in the non-league system, available to them before making their recommendations to the FA Council later this month.

The FSA’s view from the start of the season has been that after the obvious health implications for players, club staff, volunteers and spectators, that the survival of clubs is our key consideration, and we have reiterated that principle in our recent dialogue with the game’s key stakeholders as they look for a way forward.

We are encouraged that the leagues have sought consensus, particularly in light of the fallout following the National League’s handling of the grant funding process, and the news that the funding for National League clubs for the next three months will be in the form of loans and not grants as had been expected.

The funding row prompted the recent two week suspension of games in the National League North and South, described by Southport’s manager as “financial chaos”, saying that the National league had “thrown clubs under the bus”.

A number of clubs have already gone on the record with their opinions on whether the season should be completed, including Gateshead FC who in a statement on the club website said: “Continuing to fulfil our league fixtures from February 13 will undoubtedly be to the detriment of the club’s current financial state and the board will not be pressured by bank-rolled clubs into doing anything that undermines the long-term future of our community asset.”

Fan-owned Chester FC echoed those sentiments: “While the overwhelming desire of the board was to complete the season given the efforts and sacrifices of our players, management, staff, volunteers and fans, it is with regret we no longer believe this is possible.

“We must act responsibly to safeguard [our] future and ending the season is the only certain way to do this given the options available to us and will help us recover from the unprecedented financial challenges of the past 12 months.”

Whatever the outcome of the consultation, we will continue working alongside our our community-owned clubs and member fan groups to do our best to ensure a sustainable future is achieved for clubs at all levels of the game.

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