IT is not good news for clubs at Steps 3 to 6 of the Non-League System regarding the return of fans.

Following discussions between the FA and DCMS, it has been confirmed that supporters will not be allowed to attend games that take place at those levels in tier 3 areas.

Northern Premier League side Brighouse are likely to have some more clarity on what happens next when a Step 3 and 4 meeting is held tomorrow morning.

But there has already been some early discussions at Step 5 and 6 level.

The Northern Counties East League, which contains Thackley, Eccleshill United, Albion Sports, Liversedge, Campion and Silsden, has 37 of its 40 teams under tier 3 restrictions.

They were due to restart the season on December 8/9, but given the latest news, only Harrogate Railway Athletic, Knaresborough Town and Selby Town would be able to welcome in (300) fans.

Even then, their clubhouses, a huge source of income at non-league level, would have to stay closed unless operating as a restaurant, with tier 3 clubhouses obviously having to remain closed.

The NCEL have released a statement saying they are asking member clubs to consult with their committees and indicate to them whether their club would be willing to restart playing behind closed doors or would wish to wait until spectators are allowed back into the stadiums.

That survey will close at 5pm this Sunday.

Although no official decision has been made yet by the North West Counties League, which Steeton and Barnoldswick Town play in, a motion has been tabled to delay the restart of that until at least December 19, with a review on tier 3 areas due on December 16.

There is £14m available from the government's Sport Winter Survival Package, but that is largely loan, rather than grant, based and the NWCFL said details of this scheme are unlikely to be released until January at the earliest.

There are a few crumbs of comfort for teams at that level. Firstly, there is not set to be any restrictions on teams themselves travelling between tier 3 areas.

That means the likes of Eccleshill and Albion would be able to play games against Sheffield-based sides for example in the NCEL, while Steeton would be able to play any of the number of the Lancashire clubs in their division.

Furthermore, the FA have stressed that their key objective is to "conclude the 2020/21 season and achieve promotion and relegation throughout the system as a result", either by fully completing the fixtures or by relying on a mathematical formula (i.e. Points Per Game).

The decision to null and void the 2019/20 season was controversial, sparing Steeton from the drop in their league but denying Sedge a likely promotion.

But Sedge do look set to be able to continue their FA Vase journey, with that and the FA Trophy likely to go ahead, regardless of whether any fans can attend games or not.

It is often a tough winter at this level, with frozen and waterlogged pitches, as well as plenty of midweek travel for players who work full-time.

But it is no exaggeration to say that this could be the hardest winter these clubs have ever had.