The Conference North campaign effectively ground to a halt in February when a number of clubs decided against playing matches amidst uncertainty about funding. Although a decision was taken to null and void the season, clubs have now been fined for not playing those fixtures.
The National League, which administers the division, said at the time it would investigate the reason behind any postponements once a decision had been reached on whether the league should continue to play through the Covid-19 pandemic. Bradford, Guiseley and Farsley all voted to void the season – with York City opposed – and their view held sway amongst fifth tier clubs. Those in the division above, which includes Halifax Town, decided to play on.
The Conference North campaign started late in October because it was expected this was when limited numbers of spectators would be allowed back into grounds, and clubs were given grants from the Government to get them through the first three months. Further support was promised for the next three, but with clubs under the impression these would again be grants, they were told they would in fact be loans, and many refused to get themselves into debt (or in some cases further debt) to play on at a time when they were not receiving income at the gate or the bar.
Some clubs argued they were unable to raise a team because with testing not provided, their players were refusing to play.
"We're angry and staggered,” said Knight. “We wrote to the National League very clearly at the start of the season to ask if there would be grant funding and we were told there would be. The DCMS wrote to the National League and said they never said that, so we were lied to.
"It's disappointing that we've been lied to.
“We had to make a decision on behalf of a community club and to have played on would have made the club non-commercially viable. As directors we can't make the club insolvent and we have to make sure it's still in existence.”
A spokesman for the National League told The Yorkshire Post claims that the National League had lied were "categorically untrue".
Farsley chief executive Josh Greaves was more measured, saying: “We're disappointed in the outcome under the circumstances. The league ultimately have had to make a decision. I feel the whole season's been a disaster with regards to the timing of things and the situation clubs have been put in where there's another financial burden on them having had to fund the whole of January.”
Bradford have been fined £6,000 for postponing three matches, whereas Farsley's fine of £4,200 for three call-offs reflects the fact they admitted the charge. Guiseley preferred not to reveal the extent of their fine, but they postponed two matches.
Clubs have also been given two-point suspended points deductions for next season per game unfulfilled.
“I've spoken to two other chairman this afternoon whose clubs have also been fined and I'm, pretty sure we will get together and fight it,” said Knight, who equated the £6,000 to “one player less in my sdquad next season.”
In a statement, the National League said: "Given the extremely unusual circumstances that have affected football at all levels and the financial pressures the absence of spectators has brought to bear on clubs, the panel expressed its sympathy with the clubs’ predicament. However, the panel believes it must also take regard of the fact that the majority of clubs continued to fulfil fixtures and incur much costs until the League ended on February 19th.
Conference club Dover Athletic have been fined £40,000 and been thrown out of the division for not fulfilling fixtures. they have also been fined 12 points for next season.
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