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National League could be forced to climb down on proposal not to stage play-off matches at step two level

The National League could be forced to climb down on its proposal not to stage play-off matches in the National League North and South after being informed there was no government directive stating clubs at step two aren’t considered elite.

The league put forward proposals last week that would see league placings decided on a points-per-game calculation and play-off matches take place in the National League Premier, but not in the North and South leagues.

Under the original proposal Barrow would be promoted to League 2 as National League champions while bottom club Chorley would be the only side to be relegated. However, it now seems the league might backtrack on its decision to cancel play-offs in National League North and South amid uncertainty over what the government classes as elite sport.

Last week the National League told clubs that 'via the FA the government had advised that its policy on the return of elite sports behind closed doors would not include step two football'.

Any amendment could revive Slough Town’s hopes of promotion through the play-offs. The Rebels, managed by Jon Underwood and Neil Baker, were fifth in National League South when the season was suspended and then ended early due to COVID-19. The club was one of several at step two to challenge the league’s assertion that it was not an elite club. It called on the league to explain how the decision was arrived at and what the evidence was behind it. A statement put out on Saturday also sought clarity from the National League over the criteria and protocols for staging play-off matches and greater detail on the associated costs.

Clubs had been told by the league that a resolution – or an amended resolution – to vote on would be with them by Sunday evening. However, Rebels boss Baker confirmed they were still waiting for that this lunchtime (Monday).

They’ve had no formal communication from the league explaining the delay or if an amendment to the original resolution is being drawn up.

National League North and South clubs very quickly banded together to challenge the original proposals which were communicated to them at an online meeting on Thursday. Enlisting the help of several MPs they’ve put evidence to the league that the government hasn’t expressed a view either way on whether step two clubs should be considered elite or part-time.

Alan Mak, MP for Havant – whose local club Havant & Waterlooville (HWFC) finished second in National League South behind Wealdstone - spoke with the sports minister Nigel Huddleston late last week and has since written to the league’s chairman Brian Barwick to let him know their assessment of what constitutes an elite club is wrong.

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 play-off matches were to take place in the National League North and South it’s likely three clubs would be relegated from the National League, namely Chorley, AFC Fylde and Ebbsfleet United. Maidenhead United would escape by the skin of their teeth thanks to the league’s points-per-game calculation, and Bury’s expulsion from the league.

National League clubs voted to end their season in April after it was suspended in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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