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National League working with Government and FA on financial support package for clubs

The National League are working with the FA and Government to come up with a financial support package for its member clubs which will tide them through a period of playing matches behind closed doors.

Earlier this week the Government announced it was putting a pause on the return of fans to elite sports clubs, threatening the start of the National League, and National League North and South seasons. However, as the Express went to press yesterday evening (Thursday) the league’s board released a short statement saying it planned to push ahead with the season’s start date on October 3 and was in the process of working with Government and the FA to come up with a financial support package for clubs.

The statement read: “Following a meeting of its Board of Directors this afternoon, the following update is issued on behalf of The National League.

“In recognition of the financial uncertainty facing its member clubs, The National League is actively engaged with Government, with the assistance of The Football Association, to secure a critical financial support package, and it is hoped this can be announced very soon.

“It is imperative the revenue shortfall caused by the pause to the safe return of spectators is responsibly addressed so each club can operate sustainably over the course of the forthcoming season.”

Speaking before the National League’s statement yesterday (Thursday), Slough Town's joint manager Jon Underwood said he felt there would have to be some form of compensation in place from Government to make up for the lost revenue from fans if the season was to start behind closed doors. He went on to say he wasn't sure if the Rebels would be able to start their FA Cup campaign on Saturday week (October 3), with the draw for the second qualifying round due to be made today (Friday).

“I think there are clubs in the league above who are wanting to start behind closed doors,” said Underwood. “These clubs are entitled to that opinion and they obviously work on a different financial scale to us because we can’t survive like that.

“My guess is that 75 per cent of clubs in our league wouldn’t be able to start without fans. That’s just my gut feeling.

“Could there be a repeat of the furlough scheme that supported us well at the end of last season when lockdown came in. But that’s not what anyone wants. We want to play and for the season to start. My biggest hope, and I’m generally a positive person, is that they’ll see some sense around this and let us start with a limited number of fans. But they’ve got to make some quick decisions. We’re due to start with an FA Cup tie a week on Saturday. That competition has already started and the draw for step two clubs is due to be made tomorrow (Friday). If the National League doesn’t start, will clubs like ours play in the FA Cup because we won’t have any income and you’d be asking the players to play for nothing.”

Underwood added that he’s desperate for fans, however limited in number, to return, adding that playing in front of empty stadiums ‘is not fun’.

“We’ve really missed the fans,” he said. “Playing in front of empty stadiums is not much fun. If you said to me you’ll have a month behind closed doors while they have further discussions and look at grounds in more detail, and they gave us some money to top us up while that happened, then I’m sure that would be fine. But it would depend on what the funding was like. To just start behind closed doors with no idea of when things would come in is difficult. We’ve been clear.

“We either need supporters or some significant funding for matches to go ahead. We desperately want to play. The players have worked so hard to get fit and we’ve worked hard off the pitch to make the return of fans possible. It would be disappointing if we don’t get going.

“We feel we’re getting to a good place in terms of our fitness and form. We’ve had three games in a week against National League sides and we’ve got another one on Saturday. We put that in as a tough test for our players and we’re heading in the right way.”

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