The National League season is likely to continue for Hartlepool United – but it's going to get messy
Hartlepool United want the 2020-21 National League season to continue as planned.
Pools are one of the few National League sides to have publicly stated how they have voted in the season resolution which must be settled by the end of the month.
Dave Challinor’s side have voted in favour of the season continuing along with fellow fifth tier high flyers Notts County and Sutton United. Several other clubs have also made their stance clear without formally revealing how they have voted.
The format of the resolution vote poses potential issues largely down to resolution one, which stipulates whether the three National League divisions should vote as a collective or as individual tiers.
In the event resolution one passes and clubs decide their fate based on their own tiers, the National League campaign would be set to continue due to the majority of sides – believed to be around 15 out of 23 according to one National League chairman in The Athletic – favouring playing on.
This risks leaving eight teams who don’t wish to play being forced to do so against their will, causing further financial damage due to a lack of funding grants.
But it could be particularly troublesome for clubs in the National League North and South. Most National League North clubs want the season to be cancelled due to a lack of funding, but at least four are in favour of playing on.
Meanwhile in the National League South, the majority of clubs want to continue and have voted tactically against resolution one in an attempt to avoid curtailment for the sixth tier.
There is no solution which will please everyone, and with resolution one requiring a 24 out of 31 vote (75-per-cent) majority in order to pass, it could be a close one to call.
National League clubs hold most of the weight in regard to resolution one but many are keeping their cards close to their chest at the moment. While no National League club is publicly revealed to have voted against resolution one, it would only require nine votes across all three divisions to fail.
Fifth tier clubs have one vote each while National League North and South clubs have only four votes per division.
Most National League and National League North clubs are expected to vote for resolution one so that their fate is decided at their own level. But as previously mentioned, the majority of clubs in the National League South are voting against that resolution in an attempt to force the season to continue.
Therefore, it may only require a handful of National League clubs to vote against resolution one for it to fail.
And this is where it could get really messy. Should resolution one fail, resolution four then comes into effect where a blanket resolution would be applied across all three divisions to decide the season.
For the season to be cancelled, a 16 vote majority is required which is unlikely based on the stance of National League clubs in particular.
But then we have a situation where dozens of clubs are playing on against their wishes and risking financial ruin. Based on what we’ve seen so far, many clubs could outright refuse to play and the season is back into complete disarray.
This would be a problem, especially in the National League North where very few teams want to play on despite plans to introduce mandatory testing from next week.
Pools’ National League campaign is scheduled to finish at the end of May as it stands. And what has been a turbulent season so far is only going to get worse.
For example, Dover Athletic would have to play 29 matches in the space of three months despite being financially unstable without grant funding and unwilling to play on.
Clubs like Dover, King’s Lynn, Weymouth and others will not want to risk being crippled financially just for the sake of continuing a season that would ultimately be a dead rubber affair for them with no risk of relegation and well under half of their matches played.
A club’s first priority is to look after itself and many will act in self interest and you simply cannot blame them regardless of their stance.
Regardless of whether the leagues continue or not, the integrity of the competition is going to be impacted.
The National League’s resolutions may be overly complex in their wording but are fairly straightforward in terms of the outcomes. For the fifth tier it’s either going to be play on, play on without relegation or null and void.
Pools will be desperate to avoid the latter as they hope to mount a promotion challenge and return to the EFL for the first time since 2017.
We can speculate on how things are going to unfold and which way the vote is going to go but the only certain outcome from this is that it won’t be wrapped up and decided by the end of February.
Regardless of the result, clubs will fight to play on or cancel the season based on their own circumstances. So much money (largely from the £10 million National Lottery grant), time and effort has gone into getting the season up and running that there is no chance clubs will just lie down and accept their fate.
And any clubs forced to play on could well refuse to do so in order to protect themselves, and what happens then? Do the National League kick these clubs when they’re down by imposing further sanctions or do they let them get away with it and risk the competition’s integrity?
Unless a grant is supplied, there is no simple solution to the various problems facing the National League at the moment.
While Pools can be reasonably confident that their season will continue, there are still too many unanswered questions for them to rest easy as nothing is ever straightforward in the National League.