The following is an open letter from The National League to David Emery, editor in chief of the Non-League Paper, with our Chairman, Shahid Azeem, being one of the League directors to have signed it.
We are writing to you jointly as the overwhelming number of elected directors of The National League.
We were, to say the least, disappointed by the one-sided coverage extended by you to the issue raised by a small minority of clubs in relation to the distribution of the funding from The National Lottery.
We, as the Board of The Competition, together with our Chairman, Brian Barwick, our Vice-Chairman, Jack Pearce, and our Chief Executive Officer, Michael Tattersall, are exclusively charged with the management of the Competition.
To date, we have seen all of our clubs through the early termination of last season, the commencement and completion of Play-Offs, the retention of all our sponsorships and broadcasting contracts, and the commencement of the current season.
We have also negotiated with the assistance of The Football Association and DCMS ( The Department for Digital Culture Media and Sports) a rescue package for all of our clubs amounting to some £10m over a three-month period.
We had to work quickly to ensure that money was in place and ensure the survival of many of our member clubs.
We had to work equally quickly to work out a methodology of distribution to ensure that clubs in need received the monies without delay. The great majority of our clubs have expressed their gratitude for what is, to date, a unique funding package in football.
Over the past few weeks, some nine or ten clubs have expressed their dissatisfaction with what they actually received without seeming to recognise or acknowledge that the great majority of clubs were perfectly satisfied with their distribution.
You quote that premise is considered an “absurd defence“. What would be absurd would be to ignore the views of the great majority of our clubs in favour of those of a small minority.
We, as a Board are always open to fair comment and criticism, not to mention positive suggestions. In fact, what we have received is a regular diatribe of criticism from this small section of clubs which has, at times, been positively defamatory and has never been less than ungrateful and self-serving.
This has now culminated in those clubs currently publicly demanding the resignation of our long-serving Chairman, Brian Barwick and previously in statements, emails, and blogs that of our even longer serving Vice Chairman, Jack Pearce.
Both are well-respected figures in the world of football with unblemished reputations of the highest level. These clubs who are now “ demanding “ this action simply, as we continue to maintain, do not represent the views of the majority of the clubs and certainly do not represent the views of the Board which continues to have the utmost faith, confidence, and respect for those two officers.
These clubs have not only brought our Competition into disrepute but have severely hurt two individuals who have worked tirelessly and ceaselessly throughout the pandemic for the greater good with amazing results.
As these clubs well know there are proper ways to air complaints and issues within our Rules and yet they have sought to circumvent those rules by their unreasonable demands and personal attacks.
Their main complaint seems to be aimed at the methodology of distribution. The Chairman offered their representatives the opportunity of meeting him face to face on a zoom call at which no club from the National Division attended. In any event, the meeting lasted a couple of hours and was felt to be constructive. They have been told on several occasions that the distribution is under constant review.
We did not need to be told by them, or by a group of MP’s or indeed, your newspaper, that the issue should be looked at by an independent group. We had already reached that conclusion at a Board Meeting held on 5th November and had implemented the establishment of a Review sub-committee, again within our rules.
You quote from a Commons answer given by the Sports Minister and then fail to reach the correct conclusion from it. He stated (as long ago as 30th September, well before an agreement was reached with Camelot, not the DCMS, by the way) that gate receipts will “drive the criteria. “ He did not say then and clubs have never been told that they would be the only criteria. Attendances and gate receipts were an element of the methodology of distribution and continue to be, but they are not the only criteria to be taken into account.
The “spokesperson “of the allegedly “aggrieved clubs “ claims, without any evidence whatsoever, that the Board has made “serious errors of judgment“ in making unilateral, subjective decisions regarding distribution which ignore government guidelines and ignore the board’s conflict of interest. That is simply incorrect.
Even as it stands the first distribution fully complied with the terms of the agreement with Camelot which was, in turn, agreed and approved by The FA and the DCMS. Similarly, all the “aggrieved “clubs have had explained to them that there is absolutely no question of conflict. The directors are elected by all clubs and do not represent their own clubs on the Board.
Tempting though it has been for us as a Board, who have been libelled as a group and in some cases individually, to resort to legal action, we have for the moment kept our counsel, taken all the criticism on the chin, and simply battled on to seek to ensure that this funding is renewed after the initial period. Not one of our critics has offered to assist us, merely to criticise us, sometimes in the vilest of terms. This is despite the fact that it has been made clear to all clubs, not just the vociferous few, that any club with serious financial problems should come to the Board and all efforts will be made to find a way to assist them.
We will not be swayed from our efforts by a noisy minority, nor by bullying that gives no credit to its perpetrators. We will not be running to the media to create unfair and misleading headlines. We will get on with the job in hand and give our Chairman, Vice-Chairman, CEO, and the Review Committee every assistance in ensuring that the damage these clubs have caused is not irreparable.
MBE Timothy Murphy
Vanarama National League