With the deadline for clubs to give their view not until February 28, two in the Conference were yet to vote, but enough have been cast for a clear outcome.
With clubs voting to decide the fates of the Conference and the two regional divisions below, North and South, individually, the top division voted 13-7 to complete the season but 15 Conference North and nine South clubs felt it was not right to continue, meaning the sixth tier will be abandoned for the season.
Park Avenue, Farsley and Guiseley were all in favour of abandoning the campaign, whereas York wanted to play on. They and the six like-minded teams in their division could now look into playing a mini-league.
Meanwhile Halifax, seven points outside the play-offs and nine above the relegation zone, will play their 23 remaining matches.
The reason clubs were against continuing is that they were supported by £10m in Government grants for the first three months of the campaign, which started late in October under the dashed expectation that limited number of supporters would be allowed into the grounds by that stage. Without them, the only support on offer for the first three months of 2021 was £11m of low-interest loans, and many felt it would be irresponsible to go into debt (or more debt in some cases) when there was no revenue at the gates or bar. What funding, if any, will be available beyond March, is unclear.
The clubs and the league had been under the impression the second tranche of funding would also be in the form of loans, but the Government insist this was never the case.
Those that wanted to play on argued they had a responsibility as football clubs to play football – and many of those in the Conference had the incentive of possible promotion to the Football League.
Whereas when last season's campaign came to a premature halt the league was sufficiently advanced to decide promotion on a points-per-game basis, with play-offs for the second spot, that is not the case in 2020-21 and the season will simply be written off, as all levels below were last season.
Without the incentive of promotion, there is now expected to be a domino effect of voided seasons down the pyramid. The Northern Premier League, which feeds into Conference North, is just one league to have asked the Football Association to void its campaign.
Those clubs are not allowed to play during the lockdown as they are not classed as “elite”. Originally, Conference North and South were not either but York – a full-time club in a largely part-time division – lobbied successfully for the definition to be extended to the sixth tier so they could hold end-of-season play-offs, where they were beaten in the semi-finals.
The decision of those divisions not to play on might be taken as a sign that the Government was right to classify them as “non-elite” all along.
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