Sport: Top National League clubs push for short-term merger to finish season

Top clubs in football’s National League division may be able to finish the currently-curtailed season through a North/South combination league made of only those willing to participate.

Members of Britain’s sprawling non-league pyramid voted to end the 20/21 season early, much to the chagrin of a great many clubs.

The motion passed by a margin of 24-19, with the majority of the southern division wanting to complete the fixture list, and in turn, the season.

This cancellation of a second successive season meant that promotion to the Football League proper had been taken away from those at the top of the table, and they, understandably, have not been best pleased about this.

Following the vote 18 clubs co-signed a letter recommending a North/South combination division comprising those that voted for continuation be set up to finish the season – it is understood that this proposal is currently being discussed.

It is understood that plans would be for a North/South combination division of any team that wishes to partake – regardless of how they voted before. Each club would play each other once and potential entrance into the Football League would come by one automatic and one play off position. The promoted clubs would then make up a newly-expanded 25-team top flight.

Exact details of the proposal are light on the ground – due to an NDA between the respective parties – meaning there is no current word on how pre-close league standings would be reflected in the new table. Due to disruptions, and the general chaos of Non League, teams will have ended their campaigns on wildly different point totals, goal differences, and pertinently games played. How this is remedied will most likely be one of the key points of discussion, as, given the closure of turnstiles, there will surely be little point in a team with no legitimate hope of promotion taking part.

Those leading their respective leagues at the point of cessation will have legitimate grounds for feeling hard done by. Promotion-chasing clubs often wager great deals of financial, and emotional investment on getting into the Football League proper, and to have these outlays declared void for the second season running may well present a fiscal shortfall that will be perilous to recover from.

It will come as no surprise that the two league leaders, Dorking and Gloucester City are strong backers of the new bid, and have also separately threatened litigation if no resumption plan is agreed.

Shirt sponsors, advertising hoardings, and broadcast deals can also be agreed with minimum exposure levels (minutes played in front of fans and cameras) and this too may be weighing heavy on the minds of those behind the scenes.

Any such reformatted league calendar would more than likely be played entirely behind closed doors, and given that many Non-League clubs generate the bulk of revenue from turnstile receipts, this goes some way to highlighting the financial prize (and pain) on the line.

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