The Nationwide Conference has reacted with fury to the Football League's rejection of its proposal to promote two clubs into the Third Division at the end of next season.
Shocked Conference clubs will debate the issue further this week after the chairmen of the 72 League clubs on Saturday backed the present system of one-up one-down to continue for next season at the least.
Conference clubs had hoped to persuade the League to change and had won backing from the Football Association for the move. An extraordinary general meeting of Conference clubs, due to be staged at Rushden & Diamonds on Thursday, will discuss what options lie open to members.
"We are bitterly disappointed by the news that the Football League has voted to delay a decision on whether the bottleneck between the Conference and the Football League should be opened wider," said John Moules, the chief executive of the Conference.
"We've regularly been told both verbally and in writing by the Football League that they support the change from one to two clubs and that the only sticking point was purely financial.
"With the help of the FA we have provided the funds to ensure that the two teams joining the Conference from the League would not be financially disadvantaged. We're at a loss to understand what we have to do to get a yes to this change. I'm sure that I won't be alone in feeling that this is a sad day for our national sport."
The Football League's chief executive, David Burns, said: "I understand, and indeed share, the concerns of the [League] clubs that these proposals did not fully address the financial effects of losing league status.
"We have asked the Conference and the FA to present a financial proposal that will reassure our clubs and allow them to take a step they are genuinely keen to take. The board of the Football League remains committed to working with the Conference and other interested parties as part of a wider review of promotion and finance within the Football League. We are confident that this will ultimately lead to a successful resolution of this issue."Reuse content