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Government urged to reconsider bailout of the National League

Dagenham boss Steve Thompson says the leagues need grants, not loans

DAGENHAM managing director Steve Thompson has implored the government to reconsider its decision to make any future funding for the National League to be in the form of loans rather than grants.

The future of this season’s National League, National League North and South is set to be discussed by clubs at a meeting tomorrow after the Department of Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) said any more money would have to be paid back.

Clubs received £10 million in government funding to allow the season to start back in October, but that has now run out and, with little prospect of income being generated by supporters returning to the ground, it may not be viable for the campaign to continue.

Thompson, who was sitting on a National League board meeting today, says a vote to end the season is unlikely to take place tomorrow but that a decision should be made by the end of the month.

He insists that the government would end up paying more money to clubs via the furlough scheme if the league were to be cancelled than they would have to through another grant.

“There are a couple of things: whether the DCMS are prepared to reconsider their decision, which I really hope they will do, and then how secure clubs feel that they are going forward,” Thompson said.

“When it became clear that we weren’t going to get supporters back, negotiations started again with the DCMS. It started to become apparent that it would have to be via loans. But that has only been crystallised in the last week or so. We have asked the DCMS to reconsider.

“I don’t know how that has gone, a letter was sent to the Secretary of State on Friday. I don’t know whether there has been any response to that. We’ll know within the next couple of weeks. The decision would have to be made before the end of January.

“I can’t see how clubs can commit to wages after the end of January. The frustrating thing is that if the season was to end, we would end up putting all of our players and staff on furlough, and it would cost more money in furlough money than we would get in a grant.

“That doesn’t make sense: we would be better off playing.”

Thompson says clubs made the decision to restart the season in October under the premise that grants would remain available in the event that supporters were not allowed back in. He says the goalposts have since moved.

“I think clubs quite rightly feel aggrieved, and I know there are a lot of people saying had we known this when we kicked off, that if supporters weren’t going to be let in, then there wasn’t any more grant money available, it would have to be in the form of loans, then they could have made a conscious decision back in September on what would be the best thing for them to do,” he said.

“By giving the impression we were going to get grant money if supporters weren’t allowed back in by January, then clubs have taken on players on new contracts. Kicking off the season has given them a liability for the whole season.

“Had we not kicked off, we would not have had that liability. You can understand the feeling of frustration among many of the clubs. I wouldn’t like to call this one way or the other because I just don’t know.”

York, who are in National League North, are primed to move into a new 8,000-seater stadium and have announced the signing of two new players. Chairman Jason McGill wants the season to continue.

“What is going to happen I really can’t say,” he said. “I don’t want the season to be curtailed, I want the season to be played. We have started the season, we have signed players and that budget didn’t account for any supporters through the gate.

“I think there will be some football clubs struggling.

“Every club has to vote for themselves. Primarily, clubs have got to keep going and can’t go into administration or liquidation, which could be the outcome on the continuation of football without crowds.

“York City are not in that position but other clubs are, and they have got to protect their own interests.”


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