Greg Clarke, the chairman of England's Football Association, has warned that clubs across the country could vanish as their finances collapse under the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Clubs and the players union, the Professional Footballers Association (PFA), have been unable so far to reach an agreement on wage cuts and deferrals to help clubs during the suspension of action.
"Football faces economic challenges beyond the wildest imagination of those who run it. The pandemic will be followed by its economic consequences, and all business sectors will suffer," Clarke said in a speech to the FA Council on Tuesday.
"We face the danger of losing clubs and leagues as finances collapse. Many communities could lose the clubs at their heart with little chance of resurrection.
"In the face of this unprecedented adversity, all the stakeholders within the game from players, fans, clubs, owners and administrators need to step up and share the pain to keep the game alive," he said.
The Premier League and the Football League divisions have not played for a month due to the virus and a nationwide lockdown, and Clarke said a plan needed to be put in place if the disruption continues into next season.
"We must have a plan to ensure that English football is not decimated should this season be lost and next season blighted. We hope we do not need this plan as we are all determined to finish the professional football season, however we would be fools not to develop such a contingency plan.
"Those that lost their clubs because English football did not rise to the challenge would rightly judge us harshly," he said.
Premier League clubs have asked for a "combination of conditional reductions and deferrals amounting to 30% of total annual remuneration."
The clubs say they need to reduce their wage bill temporarily to help them cover their outgoings at a time when they have massively reduced income.
The PFA, who represent players at all levels of the game, including low-paid lower league footballers, say that the players are willing to give up some of their income to help charitable efforts — but not to let club owners keep it.
The PFA has argued that a pay cut for the players would actually harm the National Health Service and its staff fighting the pandemic as it would reduce the players' tax contributions.