On Tuesday this week the League Management Committee of the Northern Premier League (NPL) announced that full fixtures would recommence from 26 December. Two weeks earlier over three quarters of the clubs in the Northern Premier, Southern and Isthmian Leagues (Steps 3 and 4 in the non-league football pyramid) voted to suspend football at least until the new Tiers were announced, expected on Wednesday this week, but actually announced on Thursday. There was also a show of solidarity from the three Leagues in an attempt to persuade government to make the allocation of the £14 million support to be provided for clubs at steps 3 to 6 in the form of grants rather than loans.
In the NPL the majority of clubs were in Tier 3, which at that time had a ban on spectator attendance. Social clubs and refreshment huts also had to remain closed in many places, resulting in the loss of major income sources for many clubs. By suspending football, clubs could take advantage of the Government’s furlough scheme, and reduce outgoings to a minimum, to help them to survive the pandemic.
A week ago, it was announced that clubs in Tier 3 areas were permitted to have the number of spectators equivalent to 15% of the ground grading requirement for their leagues. For the NPL this equated to 300 in our division and 200 in the divisions below. At Tier 2 clubs could have 600 or 400 spectators respectively.
In the opinion of the Hyde United board, the NPL acted hastily and without due consultation in announcing a return to football from Boxing Day, apparently at the request of many clubs but before the Tier changes were announced. Whether or not this was in expectation of many areas changing from Tier 3 to Tier 2 is unknown, but it was not in accordance with the previous resolution of clubs. After the Government announcement yesterday, many clubs sadly still find themselves in Tier 3 areas and therefore deprived of their major income sources. To make matters worse, Staffordshire Council has today banned spectators from all non-league games, and therefore not followed the advice of the FA and Government.
NPL clubs in Tier 3 can therefore look forward to Boxing Day games with 300 home supporters (away supporters are not allowed to attend), mainly season ticket holders so no new income, and no other sources of income. We believe the derby games should be postponed until normal attendances with refreshments can be attained.
The Southern League and Isthmian League have suspended fixtures until at least 9 January, and we believe the NPL should do the same. We and other clubs have written to the League asking them to reconsider their decision to resume football, which is financial suicide for some clubs.
Until any change to the decision is announced, we have to prepare for our game on 26 December, and have therefore arranged our friendly with Glossop to get some match fitness.
We all want to return to playing football, but only when it is financially viable and safe to do so.
In the meantime, we hope all our supporters have as good a Christmas as they are able, and that 2021 will be a better year than 2020 has been.
Steve Hartley, Chairman, on behalf of the Board of Directors of Hyde United