Here we are, mid-way through May and still no closer to the end of the season for National League clubs. Have we champions? Are the play-offs decided? Is anyone relegated? Well, of course we know none of that is ready to be answered yet, but why not?
Let’s start somewhere near the beginning if we can. Had the season concluded on time it would now be over and we’d all know where we are, but we are also all aware it’s far from being so clean cut. Whilst the remainder of the non-league game is beginning to put plans in place should there be a re-start of the new season on time the National League clubs are still in limbo.
Unable or not wiling to make a decision, make your own choice from that, until the EFL decide what they’re going to do is not doing anyone any favours. I can understand however their reluctance to finalise everything until the Premier League re-starts but promotion to the Football League needs to be determined or indeed relegation back the other way.
We’ll take one bit at a time here. If the EFL are expecting to promote clubs from Leagues One and Two and the Championship, then relegation has to take place as well in all three divisions and that includes Stevenage dropping out and into the National League. Their only saving grace would be the failures off the pitch causing Macclesfield Town points deductions pushing them close, but not close enough. Job done there, thats easy enough in my book.
However, at the top of the National League there’s more to it than we encountered above. Barrow arguably have been the stand-out side this season, but as the season was put on the hold the first wobbles were coming with eight or so games left to go. Harrogate Town and Notts County would both say they were in with a good shout of chasing down Barrow and over-taking them, especially as both challengers had to play the champions-elect. And why wouldn’t they, both sides in good form and comfortably able to continue their good form but three into two doesn’t go if you were to take still two promotion spots into the EFL.
Then we come to the play-off issues, is there realistically time to play the games before planning must begin ready for a new season should it kick off on time? Players need to know sooner rather than later if they are being kept on or released, some will already know regardless they are surplus to requirements, but for those unsure? It’s tough enough times for the average person job wise currently, add a few more bodies chasing a life outside of football and the harder it becomes.
Now should they decide the play-offs are to be played, I can’t see why the games can’t be played at neutral venues if they need to be, televised to give the clubs a little bit of exposure and income, even if it covers wages, travel and expenses to get the games done, the EFL can surely stretch to that considering the winner is going to be part of their competition next season. I would love them to be played as PPG would push my team Barnet into the final play-off place, but on the same scale time is running out as are player contracts, the decision on this needs to be made extremely quickly.
In the last few days we’ve seen talk of regionalising either League Two or the National League itself in order to reduce costs and hope on the other hand to increase crowds with less travelling for fans. Whilst it has been talked about for years, now the struggles have been plain to see for our clubs through this pandemic and in some respects the football landscape does need to change in some respects to ensure it’s survival.
Me, I can sit in both camps here for and against this particular change. If it changed to a full Southern based division then for me being based down on the very South Coast it would benefit me far more to get to more games in a season for less travelling time. A few years ago wouldn’t have made any difference to me, but times change through life and that scenario would fit much better for me, who knows in a few more years that might change again.
Now on the other hand, if it went regional I’d miss the trips north to obscure grounds in obscure places! Not so much recently with work and family life, but those times heading up and back down the M6 countless times over the years are part and parcel of the season and to not have the mix of north and south through the season would be detrimental I feel. The only thing I would ask is stopping the silly midweek trips for the likes of Carlisle or Blackpool to Plymouth or Portsmouth etc and vice versa, there are enough Saturdays in the season to stop this needless waste of time for fans, it’s now about time the fans came first once again, we’re going to get first hand experience of empty stadiums hosting games, lets not make that a full time reality……….