The Southern League has written to all clubs with an update in light of the continuing lack of clarity around when paying fans can be admitted to National League System stadiums once again.
Since June, three proposals have been submitted to DCMS by the FA for the safe return of fans; FA representatives met with DCMS as recently as last week. DCMS are supportive of those proposals and are waiting for approval from HM government. We are all frustrated at the lack of response but, with DCMS support, are pressing HMG for an urgent response and that fans be allowed to attend games. The Alliance Leagues’ stance is still that playing games behind closed doors is not financially viable.
The Isthmian, Northern Premier and Southern leagues are committed to starting the 2020/21 season on 19th September, providing government allows our Clubs to admit spectators. However, we recognise that factors beyond our – or your - control may mean this date is not achievable.
To help clubs to forward plan, although our primary objective is to start the Step 3 & 4 playing season on 19th September, contingencies are set out as follows for your information.
Proposed Roadmap (subject to change)
Steps 3 & 4 season starts on 19th September, finishes 8th May with Play-Offs the following week. Deadline for decision – Friday 21st August. If it is not possible to start on 19th September, 26th September is FA Trophy so...
Steps 3 & 4 season starts on 3rd October, finishes 15th May with Play-Offs the following week. Deadline for decision – Friday 4th September. If it is not possible to start on 3rd October...
Steps 3 & 4 season starts on 10th October, finishing 15th May. No Play-Offs: top two clubs promoted. Deadline for decision – Friday 11th September. If it is not possible to start on 10th October...
Steps 3 & 4 season starts on 17th October, finishing 15th May. No Play-Offs: top two clubs promoted. Deadline for decision – Friday 18th September. If it is not possible to start on 17th October...
Scenario 5 is subject to club approval via AGM or EGM, FA regulatory approval and will require changes to the NLS Regulations and Standardised Rules, which also require FA Council approval.
A deadline for this decision is still to be confirmed. At this point a full fixture programme is not possible without unreasonable levels of midweek and away travel. So, each Step 3 and 4 division is split into two smaller divisions, every club playing each other home and away to create a ‘half’ season, at the end of which, the split divisions are re-merged. The top five clubs will then play a Champions League style round-robin (ideally home and away) with the top 2 clubs promoted.
The lowest ranked five will play each other, home and away, with the necessary number of clubs (i.e. reflecting withdrawals or resignations) being relegated. Clubs not featuring in Champion or Relegation Play-Offs will be able to enter a voluntary cup competition.
If it is not possible to start until January 2021, The Alliance Committee will determine if and how the season will be played out following consultation with the member clubs of the Northern Premier League, Southern Football League and the Isthmian League by the Leagues. Any decision of the Alliance Committee and subsequent changes to the NLS Regulations and Standardised Rules will require the approval of FA Council.
It is hoped that we will not need any of these contingencies. It should also be understood that there are no perfect solutions to this problem and that it is impossible to accurately predict the precise circumstances that will apply at any future date. However, the Step 3 & 4 leagues believe that this proposal provides as much clarity as we can provide at this time.
Clubs will be required to approve the relevant rule changes arising, should scenarios 3 – 6 be required, at Leagues’ AGMs or EGM.
We will up-date you again as soon as we have more news. In the meantime, the Southern League will continue to pressure DCMS to approve the return of paying fans for the league seasons to start on 19th September, and to confirm any limitations around this that they require.