Now we are closer to a return for non-league football, attention turns to what date the FA will decide upon once the government and Public Health England give the full go ahead to resume competitive matches.
There is a lot to consider up and down the country and how much guidance the FA will give and support with is currently unclear and I’ll take you through why I think it’s much needed.
To start four weeks later than a normal season is not a problem for non-league to accommodate but some sacrifices will need to be made in order to not have clubs facing three or four games a week in April and May, the weather might dictate otherwise but everything needs to be done to avoid it. In Sussex for example clubs can be in as many as seven cup competitions alongside a full league campaign of around 34-38 games at Steps 5 and 6. That just can’t happen in 2020/21 with a truncated season, be it only four weeks short, but in that time two rounds of the FA Cup are completed along with around three or four league games for clubs at that level, for one year only we hope these miscellaneous cups will have to excused.
It has to be remembered players at this level and above up to Step 2 also have full time jobs, to expect them to graft for a day’s money and then travel for a couple of hours in some cases to play 90 minutes of football and travel home again is not on. Some creative fixture planning needs to happen to keep these trips to a Saturday especially as these guys could be playing twice a week for as long as three months.
There is the need to complete both the FA Cup and Vase early rounds to meet the contractual targets for the Cup by the end of October, but this is achievable in two ways for me, reduce the amounts of entrants just for this year and allow no clubs from Step 6. Before you all go ‘they rely on this prize money should they win or lose’ not all Step 6 clubs make it in if they do apply and if they can run without the Extra Prelim round or a very small version of it then it will help no end to fit things in. Add to that a straight one-off game with no replays in either the Cup or Vase will also cut out games that can’t be accommodated in this year’s calendar.
I am expecting to see a start date of 12th September for non-league football across the board, anything later than that and it will be a struggle to fit everything in. That start date will give you a league game on the Saturday, followed by the Tuesday , FA Cup round the following Saturday, which if a one off game allows another league game on the Tuesday, FA Vase round for the final Saturday of the month and round it off with a further league game on the 29th, almost repeat for October and the catch-up would be caught up.
It must be remembered that last season saw unprecedented postponements from November onwards and every effort should be made to fit as many in as possible before then or the season will back up horrendously after Xmas, players will enjoy playing rather than training as it is.
I don’t see why County Cups can’t remain, later start than usual but still able to be completed even if they start in 2021, it might be weather dependant but a decision that can be made once the season is up and running, no reason why it can’t be said that ‘we’d like to do this and that, but it is dependent on this and that’.
I have seen rumours October will be the start date, that suits no one in non-league due to the tight fixture restrictions and how many clubs can go another three months without income from their activities that exist alongside their football, and if they could survive until then in some shape or form, is there a chance they won’t finish the season instead because the pressure is on to raise cash and as much as they can?
Paramount to everything, it has to be safe to re-start that is without question but as we see things are changing daily, weekly and where we will sit as a country in eight weeks’ time is difficult to predict although the signs are it is improving well for us.
What we don’t need to do is flog the players to death because we start four weeks behind and then try and cram too much into the end of the season because of a lack of preparation from the beginning, FA guidance is actually going to be very crucial in getting this right, maybe this time they might deliver……