Revealed: FA’s plans for the return of non-league football

Non-league football clubs are working towards a potential September start date for the 2020-21 season, but have been told that FA Vase and FA Cup replays up until the third round could be scrapped.

At a meeting with leagues and teams in Steps Five and Six of the football pyramid, the Football Association outlined a series of scenarios for the return of semi-professional and amateur football in England, including the clear expectation that matches would not restart without fans.

According to a source, the meeting also included news of a cut in funding for the national game of almost 40 per cent and a reduction in FA Vase prize money of around six per cent.

The FA have been preparing for a worst case loss scenario of £300 million as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

As revealed last Thursday by Telegraph Sport, September is considered to be a viable restart option for leagues from Steps One to Seven of the national game, with grassroots and youth football potentially following in October.

This all remains subject to Government clearance and future decisions on easing the coronavirus lockdown, notably so that fans could return even in limited numbers. 

It has been accepted that non-league football is not financially viable without supporters and matchday income.

The FA is also said to have discussed two other potential restart options. The best case would be a normal season from August. There is then the more likely option of a September or October resumption, which would involve prioritising league competitions and sacrificing league or county cups.

The hope would be to still play the FA Cup and FA Vase, but with consideration to scrapping replays so that the FA Cup’s traditional third round weekend in January was not delayed.

Clubs were also warned that non-league finals day at Wembley – when the FA Vase and FA Trophy are played – could be subject to competing demands now that Euro 2021 will also be staged next year.

There has also been some scenario planning for leagues not being cleared to resume until after October, when it would no longer be considered viable to play entire campaigns on a home and away basis. 

If this happened, it has been suggested that teams may play each other only once or that divisions could be split geographically. Should non-league football with crowds be impossible before the end of January, leagues could be held over until a new 2021-22 season.

After the controversial decision to annul all football from Step Three to Step Seven (below the three National League divisions), leagues may also now plan for a possible second coronavirus spike and whether promotions and relegations should be decided by an agreed formula after a certain number of matches. Teams cannot be promoted this summer even if spaces emerge higher up the pyramid, but clubs also cannot be relegated if they have not completed planned upgrades to their facilities

Having already produced guidance for elite sport, the government are now expected…

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