So here comes the second blog of the evening and on the back of the FA’s announcement on Thursday afternoon that the season for Step 3-6 was declared null and void, you can feel a whole range of emotions, rage, common sense, hard done by, reprieved, you name it and people are feeling it across the non-league game.
Where do you start? To be honest, I don’t really know! Having been asked by leagues around the country to help them come to a decision the FA granted the one which means 2019/20 season never existed. From a personal point of view, I’ve stated in many articles I’ve done on the current situation in the past 2-3 weeks football is on the back burner, irrelevant against the coronavirus fight, and having spoken to a Step 5 chairman in Lee Robson from Wroxham FC this week, he believes 2020/21 could easily have a delayed start.
There were originally three options available, firstly to continue the suspension to the season, secondly to abandon the season and use points per games to calculate final tables and thirdly to decide the whole season to be null and void.
Many across social media have said the decision has come too quickly to be made, another couple of weeks wouldn’t have made any difference given the season should be ending in exactly four weeks for league games. Unlike the professional game and the top level of non-league in the National League, there is a possibility those seasons could finish across the summer or even slightly later than that, but getting down below that level where clubs suffered for near on three months from endless weather postponements and in the case of Arundel near me, they had one game short of half their season to fit in by the end of April, other clubs around the country in quite dire straits as well, how could those games have been fitted in after the end of April? There’s no guarantee at all as to when games would be able to resume, would that have been the fair solution?
The second option is my preferred way of settling it, but again this still isn’t the best way to go. A points per game ratio may still have left sides sitting in promotion places when play was suspended lose out to those who had games in hand, no guarantee they would have won those games and ended up promoted.
The final option which proved to be the decision today extinguishes the season from the record books, a season which was just 6-7 weeks away from league completion. Months where clubs have spent money, supporters have enjoyed and despaired throughout this time and in the case of many weeks away from promotion and league titles. You only have to look at Stowmarket Town, Littlehampton Town and Jersey Bulls to name just three who are currently unbeaten, are they going to replicate that again in 2020/21?
Worthing, seven points clear at the top of the Isthmian League Premier Division, couldn’t be caught by those with games in hand if they rounded up the games to a level number played by the team in first place, hopefully in the next few weeks I’ll speak to both George Dowell and Adam Hinshelwood for their views on the matter.
I believe and this is my opinion only is had they gone down the points per game option the FA may well have opened themselves up to legal challenges against their system, rumours are already circulating some clubs will still go down this route after the decision this afternoon.
It doesn’t only affect the men’s game with the women’s side also suffering the same fate. Going back to Worthing again, their women’s team won 14 out of 14 games, secured promotion but now denied, the club investing hard this season in diversity and the development of the women’s team.
This evening I spoke to former Worthing chairman Pete Stone, a profound supporter of non-league football who said, ‘Firstly, given the macro health environment we are all operating in, we all have to preserve the wellbeing of everyone involved in the game we love, no matter the level or the role we play.’
‘Let me then take the announcement today by the FA and the evening announcement by the Chairman of the Isthmian League, I have these questions:
-why has the FA with the alleged approval of Steps 3-6 clubs decided to make a move that is contrary to that of the National League, the EFL and the PL?
-how does this decision contribute to the integrity of football competition in England and the pyramid? To what extent does the FA believe the pyramid now stops at the National League?
-why has the Chairman of the Isthmian League has come out and said:
‘There were still a quarter of fixtures left to play in the four divisions when football was halted. We thought it would be very wrong to award promotion or punish relegation when their were so many matches left’
-will the league in conjunction with the FA refund all registration and affiliation fees for 2019/20?
-will the Isthmian League refund all fines to clubs associated with the 2019/20 season?
-will the league lobby the FA on behalf of Isthmian clubs to refund all FA fines associated with the 2019/20 season?
‘Or will the Isthmian League and the FA sit on all the income they have made from this season and leave the clubs to take the hit?’
Sources say that particular league are sitting on nearly £300,000, most of which has come from fines and registration money and at a time when clubs are going to fall over, disappear completely from the landscape, shouldn’t some or all of this money be going back to help their member clubs?
A lot have mentioned on social media that fines occurred for bookings and sending’s off should be returned to the clubs and discounts given on next season subscription fees, after all this season doesn’t exist, neither did that goal you scored or celebrated, so that card should be refunded. Should the sending off carry over until the next game is played? Where will that player be in the country by the time things kick off again? Will that County FA have it listed against his/her name? Another can of worms to be opened!
A lot of time and effort has gone into this season across the country for it to end as per the announcement, but unless there is a very big U-turn which I don’t expect we are where we are for the foreseeable future…….