21.01.2021 19:29 h

England's National League faces shutdown over government grant row

The English football season below the top four divisions is under increasing threat of being cancelled after the UK government said any future funding for National League clubs would be in the form of loans rather than grants.

Fifth-tier National League and sixth-tier National League North and South clubs received £10 million ($14 million) from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to allow the season to start back in October without opening their gates to fans.

However, that support has now run out and with little prospect of income being generated by supporters returning to grounds, clubs say it is not viable for the campaign to continue.

Britain is under a nationwide lockdown as the country battles to contain a new highly infectious strand of coronavirus.

The only alternatives to cancelling a second consecutive season early presented in meetings on Wednesday were clubs applying for individual government loans or the league borrowing a centralised £11 million and distributing it among members.

Dagenham managing director Steve Thompson has urged the government to reconsider their plans, saying clubs only agreed to start the season on the understanding more grants would be available if supporters were not allowed back into stadiums.

"My own view is that I don't see how the league can take out an £11m loan. It is not viable and putting that burden on clubs over the next 10 or 20 years, I think it is morally wrong," said Thompson.

"But I also think it is morally wrong that the Government have put us in this position. A lot of our clubs wouldn't have started the season had they thought this was going to be the position."

National League South side Slough have already said they do not plan to fulfil a fixture at Eastbourne on Saturday to avoid the travel costs involved.

If and when the season is suspended, clubs will be able to use the government's furlough scheme which guarantees funding for 80 percent of wages up to £2,500 a month.

"As soon as the decision is made to suspend, we can move our players to furlough, thus avoiding further costs, if the decision is to suspend, it MUST be made immediately," said Slough in a statement.

Another National League South club Concord Rangers have expressed concerns over continuing to play without regular testing on players.

The National League is the only level of football that has been allowed to continue under an "elite sport" exemption without implementing regular testing.

"Our club will not be competing in any further fixtures within the National League South until we have clearer information on financial support on the regular testing of players and staff," Concord chairman Anthony Smith said on Twitter.