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Non-League trident delay return to football in shock COVID vote

calendario 05.12.2020
by: Zach
  • Championship
  • EFL
  • England
  • League
  • Northern
  • Premier
  • Vanarama National
  • Pro
  • Step 1-2
  • Step 3-4
  • EFL - Championship
  • Isthmian - Division One
  • Isthmian - Premier
  • Northern - Premier
  • Premier - League
  • Southern - Division One
  • Southern - Premier
  • Vanarama National - League
Non-League trident delay return to football in shock COVID vote

The non-league trident released a press statement, just a day before COVID restrictions allowed ‘non-elite’ football to return, with huge consequence for the future of the non-league season. The trident, a group of 224 clubs across the three regional leagues, the Northern Premier, the Isthmian, and the Southern League, cast a vote on whether or not to resume their seasons or continue their pandemic hiatus.

Although the teams are now allowed to return to matches, the varied tier system creates inconsistencies and financial constraints across the regions. In tier 3, no fans are allowed at games at all. The tight food regulations in tier 2 also choke hospitality revenue. Grounds would have to create some form of table service, and alcohol would only be allowed with a ‘substantial meal’. As gate revenue and hospitality form the backbone of club revenue in steps 3 and 4, it stands to reason that returning to the season in the current tier system might warrant a vote.

The 224 member clubs voted in favour of pausing the league, with a majority of 76%. In a joint statement, the leagues involved clarified the dependence of their decision on changing tiers and changing finances. They pledged to review the pause in line with the government tier reviews every two weeks, with the next reviews occurring on the 16th and 30th of December respectively.

Unfortunately, football is a business, even at the grassroots level, and money decides the leagues’ future. While the Premier League, EFL, and Vanarama National Leagues play on behind closed doors, bolstered by big broadcasting deals, sponsorships, and funds from sources like the National Lottery, the lower tiers, the foundations of English football, remain in a Winter hibernation.

The trident statement also suggested that their playing situation would change if grants or loans change. This refers to the government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport, and the £25 million non-league bailout fund. Of that £25 million, £14 million goes to steps three and four. However, most of the fund arrives in the form of repayable loans, not grants. Accepting these funds without a reliable revenue stream would plunge grassroots clubs into debts from which they might never recover.

Teams like the high-flying FA cup stars Marine FC released statements about the loan/grant controversy, stating that the FA is working with the government to negotiate grants instead of loans. However, these negotiations, like many government negotiations, will drag on for weeks if not months, and won’t reach any final decision until the new year.

Club reactions to voting outcome, like the tiers, like the votes, and like the regions, vary up and down the country. Of the three trident regions, the Isthmian league voted on the closest margins, with only 47 clubs agreeing, to the 33 clubs agreeing to an immediate return. Most of the clubs reported the news officially and objectively, but for some clubs, passions creep in. One Isthmian League Division 1 North club, Dereham Town FC, shared the news with an angry emoji on their official Facebook page, prompting fans to guess that they might be one of the 33. Their spokesperson’s profoundly existential question “if we don’t play football, then what are we?” adds to that suggestion, while raising further questions of its own.

In the Southern League Division 1 South, Slimbridge Town also responded to the news via their Twitter account. Following the vote, the account made reference to the controversial recent American election, tweeting “stop the count.” They also retweeted an image of a tire bouncing off a bus stop and flooring a member of the public, in classically 2020 style.

A Labour MP for Jarrow in the tier 3 northeast also responded to the news, yet in a more sombre fashion. The MP, Kate Osborn, in an open letter to the government’s culture secretary Oliver Dowden, wrote that “the current measures kill grassroots football.” The statement draws attention to the original metaphor of “grassroots”, as a collective, underground plant from which sport grows.

Currently, during a cold, financially uncharitable winter, the roots of English football are firmly underground. As things stand, non-league fans up and down the country are worried about which roots will rise again in the spring, and how many may stay buried for good.



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