Published: 16:30, 30 September 2020
| Updated: 16:42, 30 September 2020
National League clubs have been told that funding is on its way – so they can start their season this weekend.
Teams in the National League and National League South are classed as elite by the FA so they have to start their season behind closed doors – after plans to bring fans back to grounds from October 1 were put on hold.
But with no income from gate revenue, there were fears that clubs would not kick a ball because they would then be liable for player contracts even if the season was later paused.
But Nigel Huddleston MP, the Minister for sport, said that the government will provide financial backing to the top levels of non-league football.
However, he stated that he’d looking for the Premier League to directly support clubs in the Football League, which includes Gillingham.
“For football, we are asking the Premier League to support EFL clubs, the higher end of the football pyramid,” he said.
“We’ve also provided the National League with assurance that financial support from the government will be forthcoming so they can start this season this Saturday.
“The government support needs to go to those in most need and therefore the criteria will be focused on gate receipts. The purpose of the financial support is to help those most impacted by the October 1 decision.
“We’ve had constructive conversations with the Premier League and the EFL and they do recognise their responsibility. It’s perfectly fair and reasonable that those with the broadest shoulders carry the biggest burden. They understand and accept that.
“We pressed pause on the plan for elite sport but we want to get back to the plan as soon as possible.
“In football there is a pyramid and that means the top part of that is absolutely reliant on the bottom part. The Premier League do understand that, they get that responsibility, they recognise that people flow through the lower leagues and then go up there so they want to help out and that is their obligation.
“We’re looking for the Premier League to play its part, particularly with the EFL, and then the government money will focus on those that are desperately in need.”
He stated that the details for how the National League money will be distributed is still to be decided but confirmed that it would be based on gate receipts rather than by step.
The issue of fans from step 2 clubs being banned from attending away FA Cup ties against step 3 clubs was also raised.
But the sports minister put that decision firmly at the door of the Football Association by saying: “The FA have produced guidance and they updated some of this (on Tuesday). The issue is around what is elite sport versus what is not elite. There is clear guidance there.
“Non-elite sport can take place, and fans can go into those grounds, with restrictions of course. The guidance is for the governing body to produce that, in this case the FA.”
On the return of supporters to grounds across all sports, he said: “I know we all want our fans back in stadia as soon as possible. Sport without fans is poorer in so many ways.
“We did trial the return of fans with 12 successful pilot events, however rising infection rates across the country meant we could not proceed on October 1 as planned. We are working at speed with sport governing bodies and clubs across the country to understand what support they need as a result of the decision to postpone the October 1 return.
“We have asked for detailed financial returns from all major spectator sports to see what support they need. Any club in immediate financial distress should alert their sport’s governing body.
“Sports clubs have proven themselves bedrocks of their communities during this pandemic, hosting test centres, looking after vulnerable people, organising food deliveries and so much more. Sports clubs have had our backs during this pandemic, we will have theirs in return.”