Chairman of National League club adamant that no football will be played until 2021
With the game currently suspended in the UK due to the coronavirus pandemic, it remains to be seen how the 2019/20 season will be determined for clubs in England's top six tiers.
While playing games behind closed doors might yet be an option for the Premier League, it has been widely acknowledged that this would spell disaster for clubs lower down the pyramid, such is their reliance on gate receipts and other matchday income.
National League members have already voted to abandon all remaining regular season fixtures, and a decision is expected in the coming days on whether it will still be possible to hold promotion play-offs.
The outcome of the discussion over whether to cancel or postpone the play-offs will have a huge impact on Harrogate Town - currently second in the table, just four points behind leaders Barrow - and fifth-placed Boreham Wood, among others.
According to Hunter - owner of the Hertfordshire club - such issues are however academic given the severity of the current situation and he has called on the league to be "very transparent with the clubs and the die-hard supporters and tell them the truth - that we’re not coming back anytime soon."
In a statement published on the Wood's website, he added: "No matter how hard I try, I cannot see how any non-league football can start again in England. It’s just not going to happen when we have the second highest death toll (and rising) in Europe and still have days of 700-plus people losing their lives.
"I’ve got absolutely no idea how I can safely get our stadium and facility, two teams and match officials on a pitch, while getting two sets of supporters safely into the ground anytime soon, let alone stage a contact sport with players not able to maintain social distancing rules anytime in 2020.
"Realistically, I think football for all things Boreham Wood in 2020 is over. Let’s hope I’m wrong, though I don’t think I am.
"I suppose I could pretend that non-league will be back by August, September or October, a bit like the National League board and some of the member clubs are doing, but that’s not going to help us.
"No matter what way I look, no matter how I interpret the government guidelines, I just cannot see how any football at our level in 2020 will be possible until a vaccine is found."
The Harrogate Advertiser understands that National League clubs were initially told that the play-offs would still be taking place, before league administrators appeared to perform something of a u-turn.
This has now been confirmed by Hunter, who revealed that acting on the expectation that the play-offs would go ahead has cost him in excess of £100,000.
"An important National League administrator, who, trust me, is a very honest and good guy, somewhat foolishly told me three weeks ago to prepare for the play-offs and then two weeks later flip-flopped and told me that he didn’t feel there would be football at our level in 2020," he said.
"The truth is that not all people on league boards are remotely financially capable, even fewer are medical experts, but they do hold authority. So, in reality everything these people in authority tell us, we must now take with a pinch of salt.
"As a way of explanation, the 'get ready for the play-off' opinion first given, was of course wishful thinking on the league administrator’s part, which I stupidly listened to - and in truth it has already cost me over £125k in contract extensions.
"The second opinion of 'no football in 2020' was, I feel, far more realistic, and though it tells of dark times ahead, his candour and realism was hugely appreciated by myself. In fact, his honesty helped me to change direction, and perhaps saved the club over £300k on possible contract offers and summer spend.
"As such, I’ve now re-budgeted for no expected income coming into the club in the foreseeable future, which has meant no further contracts being handed out."