DARLINGTON chief executive David Johnston has spelled out the arguments he will be making when he appeals against the decision to impose a £2,000 fine and suspended two-point penalty for the failure to fulfil last month’s game against Boston – and has claimed the episode confirms the need for a radical overhaul of the National League’s governance.

Quakers called off their game against Boston after the National League announced it was no longer able to offer the Government-backed grants it had previously promised and was instead inviting its club to vote on whether the season should be declared null and void.

The National League North season was eventually scrapped, but the league’s executive committee have still decided to impose fines on 18 clubs they claim failed to fulfil their fixture obligations.

“I’m disappointed and flabbergasted,” said Johnston, who will lead the appeal, which will be heard by the Football Association. “We were in dialogue with the National League right from the start of the season, and right up to the point where we went into the voting process.

“When we decided not to play the Boston fixture, we believe we had what is termed ‘just cause’. Rule 8.39 states you must have just cause not to play a fixture. Our just cause was twofold. Firstly, financial. We lost £50,000 in January and £50,000 in February – we are therefore trading insolvent. If we brought in an independent financial auditor to justify whether we had just cause from a financial perspective to say we couldn’t afford to play, I think you’d find any financial auditor would say, ‘This club cannot afford to continue losing £50,000-a-month. It’s not in a position to play’.

“That’s the first point. Secondly, what’s disappointing is that in all of the correspondence we’ve received, there is no mention of health and safety and the Covid pandemic. We, as a club, have a duty of care to our players, staff, stewards and fans as well. We were putting our players and staff at risk with the travel and away games, without having the necessary testing regime in place. The league admitted this, responded to it, and was about to do it. But at the time we cancelled the Boston game, no such kit was ready to be deployed. The league’s promise to provide testing for the players wasn’t in place, and that again is just cause.”

Having previously told clubs they would be eligible for Government-backed grants, the National League was subsequently forced to admit it could only offer loans that would have to be repaid. The league has described the situation as a “misunderstanding”, but has been unable to provide minutes from the meeting that was held with Government officials when financial arrangements were discussed.

Johnston clearly feels that is simply not good enough, and is calling for a complete overhaul of the way in which the National League is run.

“It’s more evidence of the need for increased governance within the National League,” he said. “There’s a movement to look at governance in sport, and certainly at National League level, how meetings can be held discussing £11m of funding and no minutes be taken on what’s been agreed staggers me.

“It shows a lack of competence and a lack of experience and knowledge in terms of the individuals in those meetings. At times, I’m lost for words because you put your trust in the individuals. We are putting our trust in this board of directors, but to have no minutes and now say, ‘It was a misunderstanding’, that is just totally unacceptable. It reinforces my drive to push for increased governance once this whole sorry episode is behind us.”