'Two more games and then we close' - Linnets owner

King's Lynn Town owner Stephen Cleeve

King's Lynn Town owner Stephen Cleeve - Credit: Ian Burt

King’s Lynn Town look set to lock the gates at The Walks after next week’s two home matches. 

The Linnets have been told to carry on playing after National League clubs voted against a proposal to end the season because of the growing financial crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Lynn owner Stephen Cleeve is one of those owners who cannot finance his club without matchday income and so is preparing to shut up shop after the games against Barnet next Tuesday and Weymouth the following Saturday. 

“Next week’s games will go ahead because we need to give the league time to sort some things out but after that I can’t see how we can continue,” he said.  

Even allowing for the income through live streaming of matches, Cleeve will be out of pocket by several thousand pounds for next week alone. 

“Carrying on is a pointless exercise,” he said. 

A mix-up over the source of funding which enabled the season to begin in October has led to the current situation: the first three months of the season went ahead after loans via the National Lottery. Clubs assumed that would be the same for the start of 2021, but the government said an extension of grant aid was never agreed and that clubs would have to take out loans instead. 

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“Had I known at the start that the grants would have been taken away I would never have agreed to start the season.” said Cleeve. “ Why would I?” 

Lynn were due to have played at Dover Athletic this weekend, but the south coast club made it clear a week ago that they could not carry on, and furloughed their staff. That game was subsequently called off, and Cleeve is now waiting to see how they will be punished, if at all. 

The vote – which took 18 days to come to a decision – saw the regional feeder leagues, National Leagues North and South, agree to declare their seasons null and avoid, with no promotion or relegation.  

Fans were allowed back into The Walks for the first time since March. Picture: Ian Burt

The Walks looks set to host two more games before the Linnets are forced to stop playing - Credit: Ian Burt

That should ensure Lynn – currently third from bottom of the table – stay up. But if the National League take the ultimate sanction against a club for refusing to fulfil fixtures, the goalposts will have been moved significantly. 

The National League is a division of haves and have nots – it includes a clutch of former league clubs, some of which have received parachute payments after relegation and others, like Wrexham, with wealthy financial backing. Others can finance themselves through their academies. 

They clearly have promotion ambitions and the money to finance them, but should a number of clubs follow Dover and Lynn and stop playing, then the National League faces a crisis – how does it play on with depleted numbers and retain its integrity? And would the EFL allow clubs to be promoted from such a league? 

“If the other clubs want to pay my wage bill or give me £50,000 then I will happily play on,” said Cleeve. “Otherwise, having mucked up the smaller clubs they are now in danger of mucking themselves up.” 

To illustrate the concerns over possible punishments, the National League have charged Dover twice with a breach of their rules. 

Their chairman Jim Parmenter said: “We are clearly very disappointed that the National League seem to be sticking to their guns and applying rules of the competition with no proper awareness or consideration for the exceptional circumstances we find ourselves in 

“It is clear that the agenda is to finish the season at any cost.” 

It is likely that Whites will see further charges being brought as they continue to be unable to fulfil games. 

Parmenter said “We do have a right to deny charges on a game-by-game basis, but with the cost of a personal hearing for each charge being £150, clearly this is an additional financial burden and limits our options.  We will, however, make our submissions in writing, based on our firm belief that the failure of the National League to ensure the promised funding was made available has resulted in us taking the only possible action to avoid insolvency.”