Non-League clubs below Level 6 of English football are set to share a Government grant of up to £10m to help keep them afloat through the coronavirus pandemic.
Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston announced that the grant - covering the 'Trident' Leagues of the Northern Premier, Southern Premier and Isthmian Leagues and those below - will "protect the immediate future of approximately 850 clubs".
It comes one week after the announcement that clubs in the Level 5 National League and Level 6 National League North/South would only be eligible for low-interest loans, drawing criticism from a number of clubs. They are due to meet with Labour leader Kier Starmer and the shadow sports minister on Thursday to discuss the current situation.
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The English football pyramid
|Premier League||Level 1|
|League One||Level 3|
|League Two||Level 4|
|National League||Level 5|
|National League North/South||Level 6|
However, Huddleston clarified that any National League club that can demonstrate they are in dire need may be rewarded with a grant on a case-by-case basis, insisting: "We will not let clubs go to the wall."
In a statement jointly issued by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Sport England, Huddleston said: "We promised to support sports and target help to where it's most needed.
Only teams below Level 6 will benefit from the £10m grant, including clubs at Level 7. The leagues that make up Level 7 include the Northern Premier League Premier Division, the Southern League Central Division, the Southern League South Division and the Isthmian League Premier Division.
"Today we continue to deliver on that with further support for National League football clubs.
"The National League has already benefited from the Government support schemes through a £10m Government-brokered cash partnership with the National Lottery, and there will be more support for the bigger clubs on the way.
"Today's £10m grant for lower-league clubs in steps three to six will act as a lifeline for around 850 clubs in towns and cities across England, and help these clubs through this difficult period until we can get fans back in safely."
The season below Level 6 is currently suspended until at least March 6, with 'Trident' Leagues officials currently balloting their clubs on the possibility of abandoning the season.
But the season at steps one and two is continuing, despite concerns expressed by some clubs that loans will not be enough to see them through the remainder of the campaign and beyond.
Clubs at steps one and two are mulling three options, which involve accepting the loans, taking grants from the National League which would itself take on the loan - potentially impacting future levels of central funding - or suspending the season.
Huddleston added: "With precious public money, we are providing financial support to the National League steps one and two in the form of loans.
"However if clubs at those levels can demonstrate it needs grant funding urgently to survive, we will ensure that option is available.
"We will not let clubs go to the wall. Applications will be assessed by the independent board, through the same rigorous process that we apply to other sports."
Dorking owner: What have Level 5 and Level 6 clubs done wrong?
Marc White, owner of National League South side Dorking Wanderers, questioned why the grant would not cover teams at his level - Level 6 - as well as the clubs above him in the Level 5 National League.
"We are obviously delighted for [the levels below us] to get such support," he said. "It's really going to bail them out and keep these community clubs alive and I am sure they are really grateful for it.
"It's brilliant to see as a non-League football fan, but the real confusion comes around why the National League itself has been chastised and ignored in the process because [the steps below us] did have supporters for quite a long period and National League clubs [at Level 5 and 6] have been forced to play behind closed doors all season,
"You could argue National League clubs are looking around thinking 'what have we done wrong?'"