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27 June

This week we have brilliant news to share on the funding front but first – the play-offs!

It has been another whirlwind week as arrangements to participate in National League North play-offs step up.  We have spent much of the week burning the midnight oil on preparations and await league approval for our plans including detailed stadium management plan as the home team in the tie against Gateshead which is expected to take place on the weekend of 18/19 July.  All play-off games are spectator-free events.

Meanwhile Kevin has been bringing his squad together.  The rules specify that only players who were eligible on 16 March can play and this is of course only fair, preventing teams signing on players solely for the play-offs.  The status of loan players is not entirely clear and is being taken up with the league.

Several temporary rule changes have been announced for the play-offs.  These include allowing an extra substitution from a larger bench and the inclusion of water breaks at the halfway point in each half.  The referee also has discretion to allow further breaks in play if the weather conditions require it.

Training is due to start this weekend.  Initially this is small group and non-contact.  A pre-requisite for this was the first round of weekly antigen testing for the virus which was carried out on Thursday on the players and all club staff who will be in the “red zone” for training and on match-day.

While the game against Gateshead will be behind closed doors, a further requirement for these matches to proceed is that the areas around grounds themselves are spectator-free.  We understand that supporters will want to follow the action and we hope soon to be in a position to announce what broadcast arrangements will be in place.

Looking further ahead, the FA has continued to set out tentative plans for next season for all leagues from Step 1 to Step 7.  They have stipulated that all leagues will play to the same calendar and only when spectators can again be accommodated in grounds.  They have set out four scenarios.  The first is an August start which would entail few changes to a normal season.  Second is a September or October start when a full league season could be played minus some of the league or county cup competitions.  Third, a November, December or January start would see a curtailed season of either half fixtures (play each other just once) or splitting divisions in half (most likely geographically).  Finally, the fourth option is a start later than January when the season most likely would not take place at all and the planned re-structure of the pyramid would also be delayed by another year.

In a further blow to non-league clubs, the FA has reduced FA Cup prize money for next season and in the Trophy and Vase competitions also as it contends with its own loss of income.  With fixed TV deadlines in the FA Cup, a late start to the season could also see participation by lower league teams in the FA Cup drastically reduced.

So, while great uncertainty remains, we can begin to see the possible outline of the return of football to St James Park, possibly as soon as September.

We will provide an update on progress with the clubhouse next time but we have had some fantastic news this week which helps take forward the re-build.  Thanks to the work of the Stand Together Campaign group one of the grant applications has been successful bringing £75k of funding from HS2 towards the re-build costs.  This brings the total raised by the group to £89k which has made a real difference to what we can achieve.  You can read a fuller statement on the club website shortly.

Further good news came in the form of a £1500 Pitch Maintenance grant from the Football Foundation,    The Football Foundation is a charity funded by the Premier League, The FA and the Government, through Sport England, and this grant is to help support clubs with work on pitches in these difficult times as revenue is lost due to the Covd-19 crisis.

Thank you for the terrific support you have shown during recent days – the appetite for a return to play-off action is clear and your backing for Kevin and the team is terrific and greatly appreciated.  We will keep you updated on a fast-changing situation in the lead up to the play-off game against Gateshead along with other matters.

In the meantime, stay safe, stay well.

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