03:45PM, Tuesday 16 June 2020
National League clubs last night received the amended resolution for determining the end of the campaign, with play-off matches now back on the table for step two level clubs.
The resolution is expected to pass with clubs deciding to support promotion and relegation on a points-per-game basis. It will see Barrow promoted as champions to EFL League 2, Wealdstone come up to the National League from National League South and Kings Lynn leapfrog York City to take the title in National League North.
Play-off matches would be played at both the National League Premier level and in the North and South divisions, subject to the clubs being able to afford the protocols needed to put those matches on safely. Clubs have until 5pm on Wednesday to return their votes.
The league has been forced into an embarrassing u-turn, having originally put forward a proposal which would have seen play-off matches cancelled at step two. The league emailed clubs on Wednesday last week to say it had been told ‘via the FA that the government had advised its policy on the return of elite sports behind closed doors did not include step two football’.
However, banding together behind the #promote2 movement, clubs – including Slough Town – were able to prove that this wasn’t the case. Enlisting the help of several MPs they were able to show the league and FA that their assessment of what constituted an ‘elite club’ was wrong. Alan Mak, MP for Havant, whose local club Havant & Waterlooville (HWFC) finished second in the National League behind Wealdstone, also got communication from the sports minister within 48 hours to confirm the government had given no official advice on the matter.
He said: “Elite athlete means a person who is an individual who derives a living from competing in a sport. If HWFC and the National League agree that HWFC’s players meet this definition, the government is not intending to prevent National League South play-offs from taking place or HWFC from taking part.”
If the resolution is passed, which is now expected, the league will then look at the legality of staging play-off matches at all levels of the National League. Teams will need to show they can afford to put the necessary protocols in place, including testing players for COVID-19. It is thought this could cost clubs anywhere between £20,000 and £50,000 depending on how soon clubs return to full contact training and how many tests are carried out.
If these matches do take place at step two – and they would need to take place in both National League North and South so that the National League Premier isn’t left with an unbalanced number of teams – it would see AFC Fylde and Ebbsfleet United relegated from the National League alongside bottom club Chorley.
Maidenhead United would finish fourth from bottom on the points per game calculation and would therefore avoid relegation by the skin of their teeth. The expulsion of Bury from League football has also gone some way towards saving them.
The resolution would also revive Slough Town’s hopes of promotion through the play-offs. They were fifth in National League South when the season was initially suspended in March and then cancelled a month later. They were one of the clubs to challenge the league’s original resolution last week, asking for an explanation as to how the decision was arrived at not to play play-offs and asking for the evidence behind it. A club statement on Saturday sought further clarity from the league over the criteria and protocols for staging play-off matches and greater detail on the associated costs.
They are now set to play Dartford at home in the first play-off match, likely to be behind closed doors on July 18, before taking on either Havant & Waterlooville or Weymouth in the semi-finals on July 25. The final is then pencilled in to take place on August 1.
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