York City, Bradford (Park Avenue), Farsley Celtic and Guiseley go on hold for two-week National League suspension

UNCERTAINTY: Farsley Celtic and Bradford (Park Avenue) have written to the National League calling for a suspensionUNCERTAINTY: Farsley Celtic and Bradford (Park Avenue) have written to the National League calling for a suspension
UNCERTAINTY: Farsley Celtic and Bradford (Park Avenue) have written to the National League calling for a suspension
Conference North football has been suspended for two weeks after pressure from clubs including Bradford (Park Avenue) and Farsley Celtic.

Clubs across the National League, which takes in the Conference Premier, North and South, English football's fifth and sixth tiers, met yesterday to discuss the immediate future after Government grants came to an end.

Park Avenue and Farsley were two of 12 Conference North clubs who went public to demand the season be abandoned. That has not yet happened but it has gone on hold with immediate effect to try to find a solution to the funding gap.

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As with those higher up the football pyramid, clubs have largely played behind closed doors and without vital matchday revenue since England's first lockdown in March. Conference North York City were one of the few briefly allowed a limited number of supporters when North Yorkshire was in Tier 2.

To help make up the shortfall, the Government provided £10m of grants in October, but that only had a three-month timescale and was distributed largely according to which division teams were in, rather than average attendances, to the annoyance of better-supported clubs.

An additional £11m is still available, but only in the form of loans.

Rightly or wrongly, many clubs appeared to have been under the impression the second tranche of funding would also be in grant form, and the 12 clubs, who also included Telford, Alfreton Town, Blyth Spartans, Curzon Ashton, Darlington, Gateshead, Guiseley, Kettering Town, Southport and Spennymoor Town, joined forces to say they cannot continue without them.

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“We are quite simply not prepared to trade while insolvent,” they wrote.

“Therefore, we are calling for the immediate suspension of the league competition to allow the National League, FA (Football Association) and the DCMS (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) time to find a solution that is acceptable for all.

“This suspension will allow us the time to lobby our respective MPs and carry out our own financial risk assessments against avoiding a null and void scenario.

“We are duty bound as mere custodians of our clubs and will do everything we can to ensure we don not place any avoidable further financial burden now or in the future upon our community assets.”

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Slough Town, Concord Rangers and Tonbridge Angels said they were not prepared to fulfil their fixtures in Conference South, which has also been suspended for a fortnight.

Guiseley also play in Conference North.

The sixth tier is the lowest division classed as “elite” by the Government, allowing them to play on during the lockdown. The divisions below cannot.

Originally the definition had only stretched to the fifth tier, but full-time club York were influential in having it extended so they could play the Conference North play-offs, although they were beaten in the semi-finals.

York “felt strongly” games should continue, saying they have budgeted for matches without fans in 2020-21.

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The suspension means yet again their first game in the new LNER Community Stadium has been put back. They had hoped to play Fylde there on January 12, but the game was switched Bootham Crescent amid renegotiations of the terms of the ground's lease and matchday arrangements, then fell foul of the weather anyway. A January 19 game against Gateshead was postponed because of a Covid-19 outbreak, and Curzon Ashton's January 30 visit will now not happen either.

The seventh and eighth-tier Northern Premier League is one of the “non-elite” leagues to have called the FA to null and void their season.

Halifax Town's game at Bromley, along with the rest of the weekend's Conference Premier programme, goes ahead.

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