At Steps 3-7 the game has been in limbo since mid March when coronavirus halted football everywhere. Within weeks the season was null and void and subject to legal wrangling whilst the National League hung on and hung on, only last week were they at last agreed on the next step in ending 2019/20 for the elite of the non-league game.
So then, what for the rest of non-league. effectively cast aside and left on the back burner? Finally there was progress and a reminder to turn the lights on again and something to look forward to, well at least for Steps 5 and 6. At the same time as the NL settled on 2019/20, the FA finally put together a short guidance package of what it believes is achievable for non-league below ‘elite’ level.
Let’s take a look at it in more detail and what it means for those clubs who we hope will all be in shape to start 2020/21. What is in agreement up and down the country is that all levels of non-league CANNOT re-start with no income from paying spectators, its impossible, clubs would be out of business within 6 weeks and the pyramid in more chaos than looked back in March. Of course guidance has to be followed to ensure it can be safely to begin again. There are a lot of factors in this that can’t be followed as they are for the Premier League and Football League re-starts, for example separate and exclusive changing areas are impossible at this level, social distancing for players will cause a problem but there is time for things to change and if they don’t, thenmore ideas to work around these issues.
For spectators the issue becomes less so the further down you go, smaller crowds give you more room around the ground to stand on your own or with family members. If the limit is down to a metre by then even better, that will help the clubs at say Steps 1-3 who I expect to be operating at 50% capacity for the opening 4 weeks at least, anything less for some and it’s not worth opening the doors and playing.
I still anticipate we start in September. August is too quick for anything other than pre-season friendlies, clubs and leagues need time to get things together and get it right, September is early enough in my opinion. In that time things will change as they are by the week in natural life, some restrictions will be gone by that time. If the ninth month is the return to full action, then some cups will fall by the wayside and in some cases thats not a bad thing. Here in Sussex some teams are in seven cups at the start of the season, yes thats right SEVEN!!! To lose or two of those to get a full season in has to be a small price to pay for one year.
Should we find that the start comes along even later than this, then we would be very lucky to see a full season take place and if we get to 2021 waiting for a start, then half or more of non-league clubs will not get that far. As it is the football landscape has to change, this period has show brilliantly how poorly the game is run and how badly a lot of clubs are too, for every one well run club there are five living outside their means and it can’t continue. Another crisis like this would see the pyramid collapse for good if things don’t change, it has to be different.
These have been some very unprecedented times that we have lived through but we’re coming out the other side again, ultimately we have lost people we clearly shouldn’t have done, and now we have to rebuild and begin once again, this is a chance for the re-set button to be hit and for things to change, time will tell………..