01:53PM, Thursday 04 February 2021
Slough Town has advised the league it has no intention of fulfilling tomorrow’s (Saturday) home fixture with Chelmsford City – or any other fixture for that matter– until the outcome of this week’s vote on whether to continue or scrap the season is known.
Clubs were set to vote this week on whether to continue playing matches behind closed doors, with support only available in the form of loans, or cancel the campaign and declare it null and void.
If a special resolution is passed all 66 clubs are set to get a say on determining the outcome of their own division, and if so, it seems likely that clubs in the National League will vote to play on while those in the North and South divisions will seek to terminate the campaign.
A simple majority is needed for the vote to be carried either way, and Slough’s joint boss Neil Baker has said he feels there’s little appetite from clubs at step 2 to continue playing.
Clubs kicked off the campaign in October thanks to a £10m grant from the National Lottery, which was distributed among the clubs, however, the Government’s insistence that its second tranche of money – £11m from its Winter Survival Package for January to March – be issued as loans has thrown the future of all three divisions into doubt.
The Rebels have said they’ll refuse to play on until that doubt has been resolved. In a statement with 14 other clubs in the North and South divisions, they’ve said the league should be ‘held in suspense’ for those who are unwilling to play on, and added there should be no fear of sanctions for clubs.
In a message to supporters, Slough’s board of directors said: “The National League suspended its competition two weeks ago to enable funding issues to be addressed. We are no further towards a solution, yet there is an expectation that we will resume playing on Saturday.
“We have taken the decision to advise The National League and Chelmsford City that we will not be fulfilling that, or any other fixture until the outcome of the voting is known. It is not realistic to expect clubs, whose income has already been dramatically reduced, to continue to fund the playing of games, which once the outcome is known, could be totally meaningless.
“We have tonight added our support to a further joint statement with National League North and South clubs calling on The National League to acknowledge the difficult position clubs are in and allow clubs to ‘opt out’ of playing, whilst also not stopping those clubs who wish to press ahead.”
At the start of January Slough Town asked the league whether it was morally right for the season to continue with COVID-19 cases rising rapidly and the country having been placed back in lockdown.
They believed a suspension was needed for the league to reassess its safety measures for players, club staff and their families, however, no action was taken until the Government’s funding stance forced their hand.
They now hope their refusal to play matches in the coming weeks won’t jeopardise their place in the division, but say having a club to return to is more important than getting into debt simply to complete the season.
The board’s statement continued: “Alongside the funding issue, we have been raising our concerns about the health and safety aspect of playing since mid-December.
“The safety of our players, staff and volunteers will always be the number one priority, and we continue to feel uneasy asking players to enter a dressing room without a proper testing regime in place. We await the outcome of a meeting earlier this week on this topic.
“As a Board we were entrusted with the guardianship of the club when our former Chairman stepped down. We have no intention of jeopardising the long-term future of the club just to try and finish one season.
“Our players and managers have worked hard to get us to Step 2 and we would hate for that to have been in vain but having a club for you all to come back to, whenever that may be, is far more important to us."
Sports minister Nigel Huddleston told the clubs in a letter last week that the loans are "extremely low interest" and "on lengthy repayment terms of up to 20 years". He added that grants would be available to those in most urgent need and said that no club would be allowed to ‘go to the wall’.
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