St Albans City hoping grants allow National League South season to be finished

A general view of Clarence Park, home of St Albans City FC

St Albans City want to keep the National League South season going and would prefer grants rather loans to do so. - Credit: PETER SHORT

St Albans City could see their season decided in the boardroom rather than on the pitch after an announcement from the National League.

Clubs in the top two tiers of non-league were shocked to hear earlier in the week that a second round of funding this season would be in the shape of loans rather than grants, meaning any money borrowed would need paid back.

This hastened a meeting between clubs and top brass to sort out a way forward, one which will be influenced by the views of three options.

In a statement the league said: "We have held meetings with our member clubs today to discuss further information regarding the government’s winter survival package.

"A presentation was given to assess various options and interim general manager Mark Ives has requested each club to provide views on three points: the operation of a club loan process, the operation of a National League loan, or the suspension of the 2020-21 season.

"The purpose of feedback is to assist the board in understanding views of all 66 clubs and we will be meeting before the end of the week."

A statement on the website of National League North side Chester' explained each option in more detail.

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Clubs who apply for loans from Sport England will be assessed "on an individual basis against strict criteria with loans repayable at two per cent interest over 10 years with no interest or repayments for the first two years".

Option two is the same although the loan would be taken by the National League itself with the money then passed to clubs as grants.

The Chester statement did say though that "this would impact on future central distributions as the league will be responsible for repayment".

The third option to suspend the season would bring "an immediate break in the season to allow clubs to access the furlough scheme with a decision on how to resume taken at a later date".

No loans or grants would be available to clubs in this option but clubs "experiencing financial hardship can submit independent applications to Sport England for support".

Speaking to the BBC, City co-owner Lawrence Levy said that as far as the Clarence Park outfit are concerned, any payment has to be in the form of a grant as a loan would handcuff any future custodian of the club.

He said: "We really feel the loan versus grant scenario wouldn’t work for most clubs and us in particular.

"We feel a grant is something it should be and is a real no-brainer. 

"From a number of discussions with colleagues at other clubs, although we will vote to keep football going, it might well be that the vote goes in favour of a caseation of football which means it will probably cost the government far more money in furlough payments than it would do in providing a grant in the first place."

Chester too would like to see option two implemented, although with provisos.

They added: "As a club we have been clear and consistent in our view that playing behind closed doors was not viable without grants. This was the basis upon which we decided to commence the season in October and remains our position."

They say they "are prepared to consider" option two but that is "subject to the league providing satisfactory answers to a number of questions, including how the grants will be distributed, the impact on future central payments and how these will be calculated for each club".

However, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in a statement read out by the BBC, said: "Last year we brokered a unique deal between the National Lottery and the National League to provide a £10m cash injection for these much-loved clubs. 

"Since then we have announced a further £300m investment to protect the immediate future of spectator sports including another £11m for National League clubs to help them finish the season. 

"It is incorrect to suggest funding was ever promised as grants. 

"Clubs in scope will be assessed for support on the same criteria as other professional clubs."