On the 18th of February it was announced that the National leagues North and South were to be voided with immediate effect after 23 of the 42 clubs voted to end the season prematurely. With COVID-19 seriously impacting the revenue streams of the lower league clubs many decided that it would be much more cost effective to end their season early. The National League season however will continue with only 7 of the 23 clubs voting to null and void, which was labelled as “A shambles” by Dover Athletic Chairman Jim Parmenter. In the aftermath of the announcement the 19 clubs who voted to continue the campaign joined forces and penned a written letter to Mark Ives, the general manager of the National Leagues in a desperate plea to continue the league campaign even suggesting that they could join the leagues together to make it more cost effective.
Speaking to BBC Radio 5Live, Maidstone united Chairman Oliver Ash had this to say, “The whole thing is a bit of a nightmare, it’s a ‘fait accompli’ and we’re stuffed. This situation is going to go on and I’m not sure how it’s going to finish. I think there will be a fair bit of legal action from some clubs, there will be a lot of unhappy clubs and there may be some more surprises around the corner.”
One club actively showing their disdain for the decision is Gloucester City, who were five points clear at the top of the National League North. Shortly after the decision was made Co-Chairman Alex Petheram tweeted Gloucester’s intention of taking legal action against the FA’s decision, saying “Disappointing is the word of the day... but we’re never out of the fight. I can confirm that we have now formally started legal action at @GCAFCofficial against the ‘null and void’ outcome. This isn’t to make the club play on, it’s to allow promotion and relegation”.
The Promotion and relegation outcomes from the North and South leagues will still need to be finalised. However, this could be a difficult task as the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic have stopped clubs from all playing the same number of games. For example, Gloucester City currently sit five points clear at the top of the National League North but have played three more games than second placed AFC Fylde. Maidstone United currently sit in mid table in the National League South but have played as many as six fewer games than some other clubs. Given the situation there will be no fair way to decide who goes up or down.
National League clubs also rely on grant funding as an important source of income, but in the current climate many revealed that they had not received any grant funding since the 31st of December. Instead, Clubs were given the option to take out low interest loans instead of grants, which was out of the question for many. Chippenham Town Chairman Neil Blackmore, who voted to null and void the season gave this as one of his reasons, saying “We’ve got no opportunity to pay those debts off at the minute because we can’t have fans in, the funding we had from the National Lottery before Christmas, we didn’t make any money out of it. The directors still had to put money towards it to keep the club running, but it was a great help. But we needed to keep on going with that until we could get fans back in”.
Last month when it was announced that clubs would now only be eligible for low interest loans, a group of 17 National League clubs joined together and called for the season to end unless they were provided with “Adequate and fair funding” for Coronavirus testing and offset costs. In a letter written at the time by the clubs, which included Gateshead, Hereford and Dulwich Hamlet, they stated “With no apparent end in sight, this excruciating pandemic has us all facing financial imbalances of varying degrees.”
Upon hearing the news that the leagues had been null and voided fans were divided in their opinions on whether it was the best decision financially for their teams. James, a non-league fan said, “I feel sorry for Gloucester City who had never been higher than 10th in tier six as they were top of the league and five points clear in NLN” Dale, another fan said “Looking at the table it was becoming almost impossible to finish. York are “bitterly disappointed” yet have 29 games left to play. Darlington has 31 left, having only played 11”.
With the Coronavirus pandemic leaving National league clubs with a lack of funding and huge revenue losses and with no clear view on whether fans will be allowed to return in the future, Null and voiding the season was seen as the most viable option financially for many clubs. However, whether it is a fair and completely necessary decision is still unclear to many.