The National League: A Vote of No Confidence

by | Apr 4, 2021

It’s been difficult to think about the last seven days in the life of the National League without thinking of the popular meme, “Well, well, well, if it isn’t the consequences of my own actions.” At the beginning of last week, a proposal was made by Maidstone United and seconded by Dorking Wanderers for a vote of no confidence in its board of directors. There has been considerable conjecture over who would vote what way, and the Friday deadline for agreeing an EGM to take such a vote was extended to Monday, so that some clubs could have meetings to discuss the matter over the course of the weekend.

Many have stayed tight-lipped over what they will do, though a small number of clubs have spoken publicly – and enthusiastically – of their voting intentions. It has been reported that there is ‘considerable support’ for such a vote to take place, though support for holding the EGM doesn’t necessarily have to mean supporting a no confidence vote; some may be of the opinion that, one way or another, this is a boil that needs to be lanced. A noxious, sufficating  atmosphere has been choking the league this season, and both the League and its member clubs can only move on past this if all concerned can get some closure.

The letter reads as follows:

While it is not the perfect solution, we feel that [calling the EGM] to have a debate on the management of the NL Board is a necessary first step along the road to better governance at our levels of the pyramid structure.

As a result of these and other failings we believe matters have gone too far and the decision-makers must be held to account. We wish to call an EGM urgently and submit a single resolution: The meeting has no confidence in the Chairman and the Board.

If the motion is passed it will oblige resignations and new elections will have to be held. A new era of governance will be possible and clubs’ voices will be heard… It will not be the end of reform but the beginning.

From start to finish, this has been a disastrous season for the National League. Their distribution of the grants given out to cover the first three months of the season was shambolic and unfathomable. Their decision to call in an independent panel to check their workings was laudable, but any credit they might have claimed for doing that was more than undermined by their refusal to make the subsequent findings public, even to the clubs.

Their apparent misleading of clubs by allowing the lie that grants would also be made available at the end of December to grow, when the DCMS had stated repeatedly that they never said this was on the table (and whether they were doing so rightly or wrongly here is almost irrelevant, in this particular case), smelled of either cowardice or just rank stupidity. Their decision to fine clubs who had missed fixtures prior to the null and voiding of their Northern and Southern divisions displayed a tin ear, an inability to read the room, and exactly the right amount of petty, administrative spite, all the while hiding behind another ‘independent panel’ as they nudged more than a dozen of their member clubs even closer to insolvency than they already were.

It is, if anything, good to see that clubs are turning their ire in a positive direction, rather than on each other. There should be a common understanding that this has been a difficult season for all clubs, and that there was never going to be a solution to this which could work for everybody. Because this is a much bigger concept than merely anger at not getting what one had hoped for when the League’s clubs voted on whether to continue their seasons or not a few weeks ago.

This is a much bigger question. It’s a question of the fitness for purpose of those who have been charged, for better or for worse, with steering the policies of the Naional League, which contains 66 clubs, who matter to many thousands of people. It is universally agreed that the pandemic has been a terrible situation for everybody, but that doesn’t excuse incompetence, and it doesn’t excuse pursuing disciplinary action against clubs which could push some close to bankruptcy, even if the final decision is reached by an independent panel.

There will be hypocrisies, and there will be contradictions. Some will shout their voting intentions from the rooftops. Others may not wish to speak about it publicly. There are no wrong ways to vote, on this matter. We should assume good faith on the part of the participants. But this decision must be taken as an opportunity to clear the air and move on. To actually speak honestly and openly about the choices that have been made this season. To seize this nettle and begin a rebuilding of the reputation of this league by moving forward as one group of clubs.

Because regardless of what happens in terms of the calling of this EGM and any subsequent vote, the reasoning behind the choices taken by the National League’s board of directors over the course of this season must be explained. The failure of any attempt to get an EGM set up or to get a vote of no confidence through does not excuse the directors from explaining clearly, lucidly, and honestly what on earth they’ve been doing this season. If it takes a new board of directors to get to the bottom of this, then so be it.