THE chairman of the North West Counties League insists the survival of clubs is his sole motivation when it comes to planning the rest of the season.

It has been confirmed that the league – which includes phoenix club Bury AFC and Prestwich Heys in the First Division North – will be on hold until at least December 19.

Sides had been due to return to action this weekend but news that clubs in tier 3 areas could not have crowds, in contrast to the opening weeks of the season before the second lockdown of the year, has seen things delayed for a minimum of a further fortnight.

But league chief Paul Lawler, who oversees clubs in both tier 2 and 3, has indicated that he is willing to even wait until next spring, when some level of normality is expected to return amid the pandemic.

The NWCL chief says any long delay, or football being played behind closed doors, will need to be funded however and he wants clarity from the Government on what support will be offered, believing a task force needs to be set up for the greater good of the game.

“For a competition to run fairly you cannot allow teams who are allowed fans to play while others play behind closed doors,” he said on Twitter.

“It gives one set an unfair advantage and will drive the T3 clubs to fold.

“There is no point rushing to finish a season at all costs by May 31 when scientists state this is likely to continue into the spring.

“I would rather pause now and revisit the season whenever it is possible again rather than end and look towards next season.

“We cannot do that without grant funding being made available to clubs to help them survive this period. Bills still need to be paid.

“We need to push Gov for this. The survival of clubs has to be prioritised by everyone even if it means we don’t play competitive games for a while.

“Clubs can play friendlies, train and maybe we could introduce some kind of tiered cup competition as an interim measure?

“We can restart this season in the spring and maybe play over the summer if there is a will to do so if the pandemic situation allows.

“My point to the FA is we need to all work together for survival and that has to be the priority over the current rule book and the panic over finishing by May 31.

“The current uncertainty is killing football and creating a huge burden on our volunteers.

“I would call on the FA and other bodies, such as the Football Supporters’ Association, to come together to form a joint ‘Football Survival Task Force’ looking at the short, medium and long-term impact of Covid-19 on all levels of the game and create a plan of action now.”

The December 19 date has been set with the Government’s review of its current tier structure in mind.

Coming into effect on Wednesday, restrictions will be revisited and potentially changed after a fortnight.

In the elite game, crowds of up to 2,000 are being permitted in tier 2 areas while it can rise to 4,000 for tier 1, although no clubs currently fall in that bracket.

A league statement announcing a further delay to the season read: “Following a meeting of the management committee of the North West Counties Football League, the decision has been made to suspend the restart of the league season until December 19.

“The decision follows the move to introduce tougher restrictions in England meaning that 40 clubs currently sit in tier 3 areas, which means they cannot admit spectators.

“The league indicated at the beginning of the pandemic that football behind closed doors at steps 5/6 is not sustainable for the majority of clubs and therefore we had little choice but to continue with the suspension of fixtures.

“The league will review the decision again on December 16 once the UK Government has reviewed the tier levels.

“However, should the situation remain the same in relation to spectators being excluded from matches, then the restart will likely be postponed until Saturday, January 2.

“The league will continue to work with clubs to manage the challenges faced due to the pandemic, and will work with the FA in pushing DCMS and the Government to allow spectators back into stadia at steps 5/6.

“If this is not possible, then only the provision of grant funding for clubs would allow football to resume behind closed doors.”