Chairman of Hawks’ National League South rivals condemns 'embarrassing’ threat to expel clubs in wake of funding crisis

The chairman of one of Hawks’ National League South rivals has hit out at the National League for an ‘embarrassing’ threat to expel clubs that refused to play fixtures in the wake of the funding crisis.

Friday, 22nd January 2021, 4:32 pm
Hawks defender Craig Robson in action during last season's NL South match with Concord Rangers at Westleigh Park. Photo by Dave Haines/Portsmouth News.

The league is believed to have got tough with clubs taking matters in their own hands after news broke they would be funded by loans instead of grants for the next three months.

Two clubs in the South division - Concord Rangers and Slough - said on Thursday they were not prepared to play this weekend’s games, against Hawks and Eastbourne respectively, as a result.

That was before the National League took the decision today to suspend the South and North divisions for two weeks in a bid to get an unholy mess sorted out.

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Concord chairman Ant Smith sent this message to the National League on Thursday: ‘We will not be competing in any further fixtures within the National League South until we have clearer information on …

Financial support on the regular testing of players and staff (we are the only ‘elite’ competition not doing this)Financial support as discussed in yesterday’s meeting

Smith then tweeted: ‘Sometimes you have to make some very tough decisions.’

‘Our self suspension is based on still trying to achieve funding on a grant basis to test players and complete the season.’

Smith sent another message to the National League this morning saying he was ‘disappointed’ the league had not suspended the season already ‘and then alleviate sending threats of expulsion.’

Smith followed up with a Tweet: ‘The threat of expulsion is a further embarrassment to the league from where i am sitting....Sometimes you have to respect other peoples decisions and not try and bully them into something they are not happy with.’

National League rules state: ‘Any club without just cause failing to fulfil an engagement to play a competition match on the appointed date shall for each offence be liable to expulsion from the competition and/or other such disciplinary action the Board may determine, including the deduction of up to a maximum three points, any expenses incurred by their opponents, and a fine.’

Following a series of Zoom meetings on Wednesday, clubs were given three options by the National League.

1 Accept loans, via the Government’s Sport Winter Survival Package, for the next three months. 2 Let the National League take on the debt, handing out grants to clubs on a long-term loan agreement. Future central payments to clubs could well be reduced as a result. 3 Suspend the league for an unknown period – subsequently announced as a fortnight – in order to thrash out a solution to the crisis.

Under option 2, clubs would have a 10-year period in which to repay their loans at a 2 per cent rate of interest. There would also be a two-year payment ‘holiday’ for clubs struggling to meet the repayments, though the exact detail of that is not known - for example, would clubs have to take a two-year break or could they, say, elect to take four breaks each of six months throughout the 10 years?

With regards to central payments, these are hardly huge. Last season Hawks and other sixth tier clubs received around £13,500 as part of the Premier League’s solidarity package. They also banked around £6,500 from the league, though that figure can change on an annual basis depending on how lucrative the league’s main sponsorship deals are.

Hawks were given grants totalling £90,000 in the last three months of last year - or, put another way, around four and a half years’ worth of central payments based on last season’s sums!

Under option 3, clubs would have time to contact their local MPs with a view to lobbying Government to change the loans to grants.

Though the DCMS have come in for criticism, the Survival Package - £300m for 11 sports, including ‘only’ £50m as grants - would have been signed off by the Treasury and presented to the DCMS as a fait accompli.

The best way - the only way, in fact - clubs could get the loans decision overturned is by MPs lobbying Government.

A handful of MPs have already got involved, and Hawks were due to speak to Havant MP Alan Mak - a Westleigh Park season ticket holder - on Thursday afternoon. That was subsequently shelved following the decision to enter self-isolation.

But it is believed Hawks will speak to Mak, the vice chairman of the Conservative party, in the next fortnight to see if he can use his influence to help them for a second year running.

Last year Mak was instrumental in persuading the Government that the National League South and North divisions should be treated as ‘elite’ sport.

It is no surprise, meanwhile, that Concord are so upset by the decision to withdraw grant funding.

Even though their average crowd last season was under 450 - one of the lowest in the sixth tier - they still received £30,000 a month for October, November and December.

That was the same figure as Hawks, whose average attendance was around 1,000 higher in 2019/20.

Other clubs with low crowds last term - the likes of Hungerford and Oxford City - have also done very well out of the pre-Christmas grant funding, also receiving the same £90,000 handout.