The National League has suspended matches and the Football Association is “advising that all grassroots football in England is postponed for the foreseeable future” due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Following in the footsteps of leagues across the continent, the Premier League and EFL halted all matches until at least early April ahead of last weekend’s fixtures.
Despite that, a variety of non-league competitions controversially went ahead at a time when the FA’s advice was that grassroots football was able to continue as usual amid the Covid-19 outbreak.
But the Northern Premier League bowed to the seemingly inevitable on Monday and announced a suspension of their fixtures with immediate effect, with the National League following suit shortly afterwards.
A statement from the National League read: “At its board meeting on Friday, the National League decided to use its best endeavours to keep its season going in the face of unprecedented adversity.
“However, with the current coronavirus (Covid-19) reaching global pandemic levels it has to accept that the situation is now out of its own control.
“In the knowledge of the Government measures now announced, including not to support sporting events with emergency services workers, it is clearly not practical for its fixtures to be fulfilled in the immediate future.
“In those circumstances and in line with the Football Association and the professional game, at a board meeting today, The National League has decided that its competition is now suspended until at least April 3 2020.
“The National League will continue to monitor the situation but trusts that its loyal clubs, fans, players, officials, staff, volunteers and sponsors will accept that it has had no other choice but to reach this decision.
“It wishes everybody connected with the competition and indeed the whole country a safe passage through these turbulent times.”
There were 23 matches across the National League’s three divisions on Saturday, with just under 5,000 fans in attendance for Notts County’s 4-0 win against Eastleigh.
After that match at Meadow Lane, furious Eastleigh boss Ben Strevens accused the competition of greed and said there was “no way whatsoever” matches should have gone ahead this weekend.
But National League games looked to be going ahead on Tuesday – with County boss Neal Ardley even doing a pre-match press conference – until an announcement on the eve of the match.
Eastleigh manager Ben Strevens is furious with the National League, accusing them of greed for playing games amid the coronavirus pandemic pic.twitter.com/RMr1GBnwOi— Simon Peach (@SimonPeach) March 14, 2020
The NPL had also pressed ahead with fixtures at the weekend and 17 games were scheduled to take place on Tuesday, including Whitby Town’s trip to FC United of Manchester.
A crowd in excess of 2,000 were expected at the game, with Town manager Chris Hardy calling non-league football’s failure to show strong leadership during this crisis as “farcical” and said it “could ruin leagues and reputations”.
Speaking after the NPL’s belated suspension, Hardy told the PA news agency: “I think this is the right decision.
“It would have been hard to get my head around it if the league had been adamant they were still going to continue.”
The NPL’s announcement brings them into line with all other leagues at step four.
Official Statement regarding the suspension of the #BetVictorNPL— The Northern Premier League (@NorthernPremLge) March 16, 2020
All games in the League along with the NPL Academy are suspended until further notice along with the cancellation of the Player Awards eveninghttps://t.co/T9VnPBMbUg https://t.co/TchAKkX8TO
At step five, the North-West Counties has joined competitions like the Combined Counties, Western and North-East Counties leagues in suspending fixtures.
At grassroots level, the FA released a statement aimed at halting the spread of Covid-19.
“Following the Government’s announcement today, for people to avoid social contact and gatherings where possible, we are now advising that all grassroots football in England is postponed for the foreseeable future,” a statement read.
“Throughout this period, we have taken Government advice with the priority being the health and wellbeing of all. We will continue to work closely with the grassroots game during this time.
“We are in regular communication with the Government and the situation within English football at all levels remains under regular review. Further updates will follow as needed.”