Eastleigh manager Ben Strevens says the League is forfeiting safety for money.
(Since this article was posted, the Vanarama National League has suspended play.)
In England, with Premier League and Football Leagues shuttered, Vanarama National League plays on (for now).
On most weekends, the English Premier League is the most watched football league in the world. It is watched in pubs all across England, and attended by hundreds of thousands of fans, not to mention the other people watching at home.
But it is not just the top flight in England that is like that: the Football League, comprised of the Championship, League One, and League Two, has 72 teams that play almost every weekend.This past weekend, though, with all 92 of the top four flight teams on the sidelines because of COVID-19, it was time for other clubs to shine: the ones from the Vanarama National Leagues.
The teams in the fifth flight of the English football pyramid, plus the National League North and South (the next flight down) were in action on the weekend (with a few exceptions), and in fact will continue to play on this week in the face of the worsening pandemic. For bettors and fans of the sport, with options dwindling around the globe, that means some much needed matches to watch. For the teams in the lower leagues that depend on gate money to survive as a club, as well as the players who are on a fraction of the weekly wages of the top flight players, the fact the games are continuing means a much needed source of revenue.
National League Chief Executive Michael Tattersall gave a short statement on the Vanarama website about the league games marching on for now. "Our thoughts are with the players and staff of our clubs who are self-isolating or otherwise affected by the coronavirus. The National League is keeping the continuation of the season under constant review and will provide a further update in due course."
But not everyone is happy about the leagues continuing. One of the most outspoken critics was Eastleigh Manager Ben Strevens, after his team was beaten by Notts County in front of almost 5,000 fans. “The reason National League games went ahead and the EFL games didn’t go ahead and the Premier League games didn’t go ahead is because whoever sits on the board of the National League cared about money,” Strevens said on the BBC. “Simple as that.“
It's not just about the players, who are young, fit athletes, Strevens added. “It’s the supporters who come here: and it’s not only the supporters, we’ve got a kit man who is an old boy. I looked around today and there are stewards that are older. They are the ones that are most at risk from this virus.
"If the EFL are not playing them and if the Premier League are not playing them, then the National League shouldn’t be playing them.”
Tattersall responded to Strevens rant: “It’s not really a time for having an argument, it is a time for reflecting on what is happening in our society," Tattersall said. "The National League is keeping the continuation of the season under constant review.”
So for now, there will be three matches Tuesday in the National League (with two postponed), while the National League North will play four and the National League South will play three. Then, as of now, there will be 10 matches each for the National League and National League South on Saturday, with 11 scheduled for the National League North. Could that all change tomorrow? Of course. But fans (and bettors) still have a slight ray of hope in what is a daily sea of worsening news.
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