View from the boardroom

Late last week I spoke to a couple of Step 3-6 managers to find out their views on the quietness from the leagues and FA over what is happening to their season.

This weekend I caught up with Lee Robson, the chairman of Thurlow Nunn Premier Division leaders Wroxham FC, to ask him how the club have faired over the lockdown period, whether provisions should have been made for the scenario we’re in and what it will feel like when the Yachtsmen are back on the pitch:

TK: Have you been able to keep the club ticking over in these times without football income and more importantly ensure the club is here for the future?

LR: We were really lucky in the sense that we entered the latest lockdown on the back of our FA Vase run which gave us the cushion of cash in the bank, not every club has been that fortunate.

I think my job helped as well as I work for the local council and I could see that the pandemic was going to be severe and we were in for a long haul. We immediately took steps to make the savings that we needed to but were also on the front foot when it came to making sure we could apply for any financial help that was available.

Ironically, the series of lockdowns helped us prepare better in some ways and in fact we have taken the time to invest in parts of the ground including a new irrigation system, have upgraded the showers and we will shortly be building an extension for our catering operation.

Most of this has been funded by the Covid-19 related financial assistance and of course we don’t have any full time players that we need to keep paying nor indeed have to furlough.

The hardest part has been to try and keep people connected and occupied and our team managers have been doing a brilliant job on that, right from our six year olds through to the first team.

Longer term the worry is how many income streams we will lose from match day raffle, business sponsorship through to junior tournaments, although the evidence of this season suggests that gates will be significantly up.

TK: Do you think that there should have been almost an emergency rulebook to apply for the situation we find ourselves in now?

LR: The first time around it was understandable that people were not prepared for what was happening, whether that was leagues, players, clubs or even the FA’s themselves as even the best contingency plans were redundant from day one.

There was little option at the time other than to null and void the season as there were too many unknowns and risks. I think the second wave was predictable and maybe an emergency rulebook is a little too black and white and not able to take in the uncertainties that the whole pandemic threw up, but a series of thought out plans would have been wise.

That said I don’t believe clubs should be put in the position to make decisions as clubs are all in different situations depending on cash flow, commitments, and league position when the season was suspended this time around.

The FA nationally and locally need to show some leadership, which out of necessity will mean balancing out the interest’s and whats best for football in general.

There are bound to be some winners and losers whatever happens, it’s just a shame that these things can’t be sorted out on the pitch.

TK: How good is it going to feel when Wroxham FC take to the pitch again and football is back?

LR: It’s going to be brilliant when we get football back again. I popped down to the ground this week to help set up a new PA system and it was a hive of activity of work going on, but it’s all a bit pointless without something going on on the big green thing in the middle.

We all miss it terribly and if we just wanted to push paper around or tidy up bits of grass then we would have done something else with our spare time. It’s the beautiful game but like most beautiful things it’s also highly addictive.

Managers have their say

Adam Hinshelwood (left) and Richard Styles (right)

It’s been a little while since there has been much else to blog about apart from the National League on-going saga and the trials and tribulations of Barnet FC! It makes for some reading I agree but the non-league game we know extends further than that.

And for that reason alone I’ve asked around a couple of managers this week to get some perspective on Steps 3-6 which operate underneath the National League divisions as it feels a little bit like they’ve all been pushed to the side somewhat, not that I disagree the NL gets its limelight it’s the full time for a lot of people.

The beauty of our football pyramid is the fact we go down to so many levels beyond the top divisions and there is a lot of opportunity to progress up the ladder.

Last season of course clubs at those step levels saw their season suspended in March and finished as null and void just a few weeks later. Now less than twelve months later those same clubs find themselves in the same situation despite having completed less games this time around.

Whilst we’re in territory we hoped wasn’t going to happen, there are a lot of ways in which things can help clubs still be in existence for a new season later in the year if the null and void does instead come into force over the coming weeks. Grants have been made available for clubs at this level which should enable them all to get through until the season starts again for 2021/22.

There is reason however to believe that just maybe there will be a resumption if restrictions are lifted in March to complete something in some form in some shape, as vague as that might be, everything is still up in the air and could be for a few weeks longer.

Earlier this week I caught up with Worthing boss Adam Hinshelwood whose side were for the second year running leading the Pitching In Isthmian League Premier Division and Tunbridge Wells manager Richard Styles, the Wells very much in the thick of it at the top of the Southern Counties East League Premier Division. Both managers gave me their views on what might happen over the coming months and how vital funding is to keep these clubs alive.

TK: Do you feel Steps 3-6 have disappeared a bit under the radar at the moment?

AH: Yes I do. I sympathise with the leagues and the FA as we are in difficult times right now but I did feel they jumped on their decision to null and void last season a bit hastily. Maybe a two weekly update would be good just to know what they are thinking, obviously it might not work as circumstances around the country are changing so quickly at the moment.

TK: What is your gut feeling in terms of what might happen and do you think we might see a stand off for a few weeks until the National League is resolved despite it might not having a bearing on the outcome for Steps 3-6?

AH: I can’t really see fans back for some time yet unfortunately, so this would make it impossible for us to play at Step 3 level which leads itself towards another null and void season. They may wait to see what the National League decide to do in the next couple of weeks before confirming anything but as I said already I would just like to know where we stand.

TK: How welcome is it though that Step 3-6 clubs have access to funding to help them survive and be here in the future?

AH: It’s a massive bonus to all clubs, I think so many would struggle and local clubs can be the real hub of the community and a place where the whole area can meet and socialise when safe to do so. These clubs are a big part of so many people’s lives so to keep as many of them going as possible is a massive positive.

Styles is also concerned at the lack of communication coming from above and like Hinshelwood feels null and void is the likely outcome to the season:

TK: With the National League fiasco taking centre stage, do you think the rest of non-league has been pushed to the side and almost forgotten about?

RS: The National League has gotten a lot of media attention lately which is right as they are at the top of the pyramid and have a lot of full time members in the divisions. Filtering down there hasn’t been a lot of movement nor communication recently from the FA through the league’s leading to a lot of assumptions as to what is going to happen.

Like anything we’re waiting I think for the National League to sort themselves out and it will then filter down to the leagues below.

TK: Despite the difference in what happened last time around do you think if the National League continues there is a chance Steps 3-6 will do the same or do you feel null and void is set to happen again?

RS: The National League seem to have a financial complication which is causing part of their issues in continuing or not. In terms of steps 3-6 there is already a financial grant I believe we can apply for. Given the time away clubs, staff, and managers have had away from football I can’t see anything other than null and void happening at steps 3-6 to be honest.

TK: If we do go null and void once again would you hope that there are better plans put in place should the game ever find itself in this position again?

RS: It would be helpful for everyone to have a plan or protocol in place for the future should anything like this ever happen again for sure. It’s difficult for the FA to decide how to complete the season in these situations and you’ll never please everyone.

The fairest way possible is with as much communication and guidance as they can give rather than the area of the unknown.

Whilst the National League situation is descending into a farcical situation on a daily basis the FA remain quiet on where they are up to currently, we can only presume they have all the information into them now, you can just hear the silence however……………

Shots on target against improving Bees

When Tim Flowers arrived at Barnet FC the size of the task in hand was a long hard slog. Six games later and despite some signs of improvement he might be thinking a trek over the Himalayas might prove less challenging.

Flowers was absent from the Bees Tuesday night trip to Aldershot, the club stating a non-covid illness, but assistant Gary Whild in the post-match interview suggesting the boss should get a covid test on the assumption of how he looked, make of that what you will!

Having watched the Shots live on BT Sport on Saturday evening away at Bromley, it was a good chance to see what to expect when facing Barnet. A liking to attack down the flanks where Barnet are weak was going to cause a few problems, strong across midfield and a cohesive back four, although that four described by the commentators were all centre halves by trade.

The one change for the Bees bringing in Michael Petrasso for Ephron Mason-Clark was like for like on what was to be another heavy pitch but of course nowhere near as tough as the conditions a week ago at Dover.

Best word to describe the first half, sluggish. The Shots didn’t create as much as I expected nor targeting the full backs either, although they were the only side to look as if they might score, Barnet once again less than potent in the opposition box, something that we’ve not managed to address since Flowers’ arrival.

By half time I duly believed that the game was there for the taking if we could somehow remember the opposition had a goal we were supposed to score in and funnily enough the memory came back.

A superb, whipped ball into the box by Antony Wordsworth found the head of an unmarked Petrasso to give the Bees the lead eight minutes into the second half, minutes where we seemed to remember that attacking play brings goals.

Minutes later Barnet should have had a second, Petrasso again with a shot that looked like it was heading into the net only for Shots keeper Mitch Walker to pull off the save, the loose ball then evading Courtney Baker-Richardson.

Just four minutes later however the hosts were level, a short corner from the Bees right hand side was not picked up quick enough and on hand at the far post unmarked was Jamie Sendles-White to volley past Scott Loach for parity.

The Shots almost took the lead a minute, a long ball over the top saw Frank Nouble beat the on-rushing Loach only to see the ball come back off the crossbar and evade the incoming Ricky Miller before the Barnet defence cleared the ball.

It wasn’t long in coming however for Aldershot to take the lead, a silly free kick given away by Miles Judd just outside the penalty area and former Bee Mo Bettamer fired the ball under the wall and into the net, sweet justice maybe for a player whose career stalled very quickly after signing for Barnet from Braintree but has ignited once more in Hampshire.

That goal did seem to knock the brittle confidence of the Bees once more and although Mason-Clark had a goal bound effect deflected over by JJ Hooper the Bees ran out of ideas and steam and once again defeat on the road for the struggling side from The Hive.

Petrasso since his return from injury has been a leading light for Barnet, it wasn’t surprising to see him withdrawn after an hour as he builds up fitness once again, the team can’t afford to have him suffering on the sidelines.

Defensively away from the goals conceded the centre halves looked better, but still concern in the full back positions, Jerome Binnom-Williams caught out of position far too often and Judd offered very little in either half of the pitch.

Good to get ninety minutes in the tank for both Wordsworth and Baker-Richardson, the lack of games played for the former due to suspension and for the latter a lack of action prior to arriving on loan, match fitness many need but quickly.

Evident once again that while we are getting better slowly defensively, the other end of the pitch is still causing concern and while quite a few have dug out Alfie Pavey over the last few weeks, most of which I agree with, Hooper should not be without criticism.

If the ball isn’t forthcoming too often, then let’s get some work-rate going please. Mo Faal doesn’t look to be in favour, looking for a goal last night in the last ten minutes and we chuck Liam Daly up the pitch instead of bringing on the tall striker. Hooper needs to do more for me, it’s the one area where we now need major improvement if we are to get out of the bottom three and if anything he has more help now in Petrasso and Baker-Richardson.

No win in fourteen league games now is a sorry statistic and a far cry from twelve months ago when the club were in the middle of what turned out to be a run of one defeat in seventeen games when the season came to a halt in March. A weekend off is probably not what is needed at the moment, but when Halifax visit the Hive next Tuesday it must signal the start of a run if the Bees want to finish outside the bottom three. Forget what is going on with the vote, that distraction and reliance on things going our way is not going to help, muddled thinking will only result in a failure to escape relegation in that someone or something else will help us out.

Games are starting to run out and while it still looks like there are plenty of matches and time on our side that soon evaporates and it becomes nigh on impossible to not lose another one, never dull being a Bees fan is it………..

No sting for the Bees

With very little else going on in the non-league world currently, this is starting to get very National League and Barnet orientated so later this week it’s time to redress the balance a little bit as we enter a new month on Monday.

Watching your club decline so badly as Barnet are currently in the midst of is painful as every football fan knows. Normally these things go in cycles for clubs, a few years of success or that combined with not troubling the promotion race nor the relegation zone.

Depending on the outcome of National League voting in the coming weeks we will see what direction the Bees will take for the remainder of the season. Null and void for the North and South divisions should mean no relegation from the top division giving the club a free hit to rebuild.

If the opposite happens then Tim Flowers still has that massive job on his hands to lift the club from the foot of the table and out of the relegation zone to safety. There are plenty of games left to do so but as each one passes with another loss registered the task gets harder.

Barnet vs Torquay springs to mind for Bees fans going back to 2001 when the sides met in the final game of the season at Underhill where the winner stayed up and the loser went down to the now named National League. That was to be the clubs first of so far three relegations from the Football League in the last twenty years.

What could go wrong did go wrong that day for the Bees, first choice keeper Lee Harrison going off with injury, Darren Currie missing a penalty, Barnet going in at half time 3-0 down and despite pulling two goals back in the second half, relegation was confirmed.

Fast forward to the present day and if things continue as they are for both sides over the coming months, they could both be in different divisions once again with the Gulls storming clear at the top of the table.

After Tuesday night’s capitulation to relegation rivals Dover Athletic, Flowers demanded a reaction from his players and with another debutant in the line-up, Courtney Baker-Richardson on loan from Barrow, the Bees abandoned the three centre half experiment and opted to go what looked like 4-3-3.

That reaction was evident in the opening first few minutes but they were undone inside ten minutes, picked apart by one pass and finished by Ben Whitfield past Scott Loach.

The visitors controlled possession of the game throughout the half and despite plenty of huff and puff from the Bees, the lack of creativity in the final third along with the ability to fashion out any chances saw Shaun McDonald not make a single save, indeed through the full ninety minutes, JJ Hooper’s header over the bar the closest to the target the Bees got all afternoon.

Torquay certainly didn’t have to exert themselves in the second half, the Bees showing signs of fatigue after the heavy conditions they experienced on Tuesday night and it was no surprise to see the Gulls wrap up the points with a long range strike from Jake Andrews dipping in front of Loach and out of his reach to make it 2-0 to the visitors.

The returning Antony Wordsworth managed a good 70 minutes whilst Baker-Richardson ran out of steam after an hour, both players not seeing a lot of football over the last few weeks, Michael Petrasso looking bright after another substitute cameo.

This was never a game Flowers would have marked down as getting anything from but it’s another game gone and there is a need for points to be picked up on Tuesday night with a short trip to face Aldershot, more is needed in the final third of the pitch if the Bees are to make any inroads into the teams above them, results did go their way this weekend but nine points to safety is the current margin, which might all be irrelevant depending on voting by the NL clubs this week, onward reporting of the National League fiasco to re-commence then………..

Vote to play or vote to finish

Every few days the National League picture is changing, every day I’m receiving messages, speaking to people, and listening to interviews to find out exactly where we all stand and from one 24 hours to the next the landscape moves quite drastically.

There are various meetings happening almost daily now to try and get a resolution to what I call is ‘the mess of non-league football.’ Trying to keep on top of it is also a challenge in itself and understand exactly what the latest position is for each division.

The position of each club is the big variety and I think Marc White at Dorking Wanderers put it well that each club has an opinion and in many cases it is going to be different from club to club and in other cases it will be the same as some clubs.

Clubs met with Sport England on Friday morning to ascertain further what can be done to help, also after a meeting this week with the leader of the opposition Sir Keir Starmer. Grants applications are able to be made for the National League but those are expected to take four weeks minimum to come through, so clubs will in effect have played January and February without funding but wages to pay. These grants are also for those whose immediate future are at risk, otherwise once again it’s loans which we know are not feasible for clubs with no idea when they will actually earn income to pay it back.

Whilst they apply for a grant, they are being asked to vote next week on the resolution to the season, surely that decision needs to either be delayed or clarification sought to ascertain how long grants would actually take? The National League board itself should have been walking down this road at the end of last year so plans were in place after Christmas to get things sorted out as quickly as possible.

Clubs certainly don’t know where they’re coming from, neither do players. Speaking to people at different clubs over the past few days at boardroom level down to managers and players the lack of what can be planned causes as much concern.

Players and managers at National League clubs believe the North and South divisions will cease playing sooner rather than later and the top division itself a 50/50 split in which way a vote would go. With so little difference in points between clubs, why wouldn’t clubs and chairmen want a crack at promotion to League Two?

Speaking to Tonbridge Angels boss Steve McKimm on Friday morning, he believes grants are the only way forward.

‘Grants are needed without fans to keep clubs sustainable, loans with no relegation are pointless because clubs won’t need to pay wages they are paying and can reduce the budget by a third or less to keep playing, but it would affect the top of the table as it wouldn’t be a strong competition.’

‘A lot of clubs weren’t happy with the original funding distribution through the National League and there lies a problem. I wonder if clubs will have to take the same size loan as they received as a grant because it was obviously needed at a few clubs.’

‘As for safety reasons, players, staff, and volunteers etc, I’m seeing a lot of people asking for funding for testing but hardly anyone was asking for this during the first few months of the season. The league has been stopped for funding issues, not testing. Every member started the season knowing there was no testing taking place, unless clubs themselves undertook to do it, just protocols to be followed and all adhered to it.’

‘I believe there has been no clear dialogue between the DCMS and the National League forwarded onto clubs and the goalposts, pardon the pun, seem to keep moving.’

Eastbourne Borough boss Danny Bloor would like his team to just be able to play football but accepts that might be difficult.

‘I just want my team to be able to continue to play football. I don’t have an opinion on whether we resume on 6th February as we just don’t know, I’ll leave my chairman and CEO to deal with that side of things.’

‘Having enjoyed a good campaign so far it would be a shame for things to end but it is what it is and we have put excellent foundations into place for the future.’

‘We just continue to train like we always do unless we are told otherwise, however it was nice to play QPR Under 23’s during the week, it keeps game time up for the squad whilst not playing competitive fixtures.’

As of Thursday clubs were unaware exactly what they are voting on when it comes to Monday, hopefully by the time this article is online there is a clearer idea of the options, one thing is for certain it’s not going to be a winner for everyone and will be remembered for the mess rather than the football………

What next for beleaguered Bees?

Blogging straight after a game is never a good idea and something I never try to do; it clouds sometimes what could or should be said and I prefer to get a balanced opinion across.

I’m also finding it’s get harder to write a balanced article when it comes to Barnet FC, I don’t think many will disagree with that either and there aren’t too many now believing the club is heading anything than other in a constant downward spiral.

Tuesday night’s defeat to bottom placed Dover Athletic put the Bees at a new low, replacing the Crabble based outfit at the foot of the table and looking like an out of control juggernaut that can’t be stopped.

Where do you begin to start? Losing a ‘six-pointer’ against the only side worse off than you in the table? Starting the season under prepared? Appointing the wrong manager? Letting go of a better manager? The buck stops at the top? So many questions, so many answers, so many opinions.

Well, let’s start with the most recent, Tuesday night at Dover. The conditions were monsoon-like but the same for both sides throughout the 90 minutes and one side were up for it more than the other.

As I would expect for an Andy Hessenthaler side they were up for the biggest game of their season so far, listening to the commentators they stated that the Whites had indeed put in some better performances over the last few weeks and maybe this was a performance coming. On the other side it was also Barnet’s biggest game as well but too many in white and amber didn’t show up, now whether that is down to ability, the players picked, the formation, the lack of conviction that a win could be garnered, maybe a combination of the lot?

Being led to believe that Tim Flowers and Hessy both interviewed in the summer for the job at The Hive, if either had been in from the beginning Barnet would not be sitting in the position they are now. I know our budget despite being chopped is still around mid-table in the National League, the performances on the pitch are far detached from that.

The lateness of appointing Peter Beadle in the first place, a man with a lack of knowledge at National League level has possibly set the tone for the season, almost like tomorrow will do, well those tomorrow’s run out every time a game is lost.

Sixteen games has shown he was the wrong appointment as many expected upon his arrival, and now we’re in a desperate battle to preserve a National League status that shouldn’t be in question.

The cost of now rescuing the season will be more than could have been used keeping Darren Currie and Junior Lewis in the summer. I know the reasons why they aren’t there, but I do know both still care deeply about the club as I speak to both and are alarmed at how quick the fall as been, two years ago we were selling out The Hive to take on Brentford in the FA Cup 4th round, how quick things can change.

The buck ultimately stops at the top of the tree, that we can’t deny. Downhill Second Half podcast pulled up on Twitter today a quote from Tony Kleanthous from 2017, stating where the club would be in 5 years’ time ‘simply we just need to get to League One ASAP’, we’re a million miles away from that.

At the end of the day, he appoints the manager who spends the budget and puts the players on the pitch, the latter bit he can’t control but it stems from the initial appointment and as he is in control of that and him only the fair share of blame has to be apportioned to him.

I am concerned Tim is not going to get a tune out of most of the players he inherited. His post-match interview pretty much confirmed that with the ‘you’re with me or we shake hands and you move on’, time has run out quickly for some.

And as he also commented on last night that he had to change formation again to try and get something out of the game, the personnel is not there to do what he demands which puts us at a bit of a crossroads.

The players do need to accept some responsibility, I know they are prepped well enough, Liam Daly has said as much on Twitter, Loachy would say the same, but for some reason it’s either not getting through or they’re not good enough to execute a game plan.

Do you now waste more money getting rid of those who just aren’t up to the standard required to get results in this division and then spend more to get in the right personnel to ensure survival? Much of that question will only be answered by what happens to the National League South over the coming weeks if they do indeed null and void their season which would give Barnet a free pass for the season.

That in itself is good reason not to spend any more money until it is decided one way or the other. Personally, I expect the National League itself to continue and finish the season because there surely would some ramifications from the Football League over promotion to and relegation from League Two, looking at the current table before Wednesday night’s games just two points separates seventh and sixteenth in the table, why wouldn’t those chairman want a crack at the play-offs and possible promotion?

NB This was written before the ‘statement’ issued from Tony Kleanthous which didn’t really tell us an awful lot as per usual.

Buying time might still not complete the season

Just the other day I remarked on Twitter how much of a mess non-league football is becoming and there isn’t a single part of the lower level game that escapes being called that to at least a small extent.

From the National League right down to the very levels of true grassroots football things are looking very bleak for a lot of clubs to complete a season for the second year running and this week has seen the largest amount of unrest between the ‘elite’ clubs at Steps 1 and 2 with opinions divided and a lack of leadership and seemingly false promises coming from the top.

I’ve read so much over the past few days from clubs, people on Twitter, Facebook etc, club chairman and it’s hard to work out if the DCMS or the National League have been less than honest since that opening day in October that triggered player contracts.

It might well be both are culpable with blame but the results is their member clubs are the ones who suffer. Earlier on Friday having consulted clubs across all three divisions we now have a two week suspension across the North and South at Step 2 but Step 1 play on.

With clubs already confirming on Thursday an intention to not complete the weekend’s fixtures the NL board were left with little choice but to invoke the break to buy some time to get some assurances on the funding, it is also believed that the grants would help pay for testing which is currently not carried out by most clubs.

After the initial discussion of three options for National League clubs which comprised of either each club taking on a loan themselves, the league themselves taking on the loan and supplying the clubs with money drawn against future sponsorship payments or the season to be suspended, the consensus was to play on for the National League itself and the regional divisions to take a break.

The DCMS are adamant there was no conversation of agreement back in the late summer months of promised grant funding for the entire season, the National League board claim otherwise, the league itself have since withdrawn the option of taking on the loan themselves leaving options 1 and 3 left on the table.

Quite rightly club chairmen are refusing to saddle their clubs with debt and it must be remembered that we’re only talking about January-March funding currently. To complete the season we are now looking at a June finish, is this going to mean we’re going to be back at this same crossroads for the final months of the season?

It’s already been worked out that should there be a vote for suspension of the season to follow for all three divisions until the end of March then furlough for the government will cost £14 million compared to the £11 million the National League require, not only that we’re looking at £10 million of Lottery money wasted on the first three months of the season.

Clubs believed it was either a funded season or fans would return at some point, most say there isn’t a chance they would have kicked off the season if they knew we’d arrive at this point in time.

Having read more this weekend it appears the DCMS are digging their heels in, the FA and National League say they are in constant dialogue but without a change in the stance, there will be no money.

Whilst the North and South could follow the same pattern as last season we’re not close to 75% of completed games for PPG (points per game) to be triggered. As the remainder of non-league below them once again looks to be heading towards another null and void judgement, there would be no relegation from the regional divisions into Step 3.

For the top division it becomes a little more complicated I think with ramifications from the EFL when it comes to promotion to and relegation from League Two. But the same as the North and South they need funding to get as far as completing the season and to be able to test their players, it’s ridiculous to be classed as elite competition but not subject to the same testing levels as their higher paid counterparts.

Poor leadership and a keenness to get a competition played instead of looking after member clubs leaves a lot to be desired, but when the FA treats the rest of non-league football in the same vein, I guess it’s hardly surprising.

Where does it all go from here? Well, it rests on what the National League can gain from the two week suspension, if no change of mind from the DCMS which is what I am expecting, then I fully expect the season to be suspended for all National League clubs possibly until the end of March, not the situation we all want but no funding means clubs will feel the squeeze even more whilst no testing in place compromises player safety, however it goes we all want our clubs still here for the future and that goes for every club at every level, here’s praying for some common sense……..

Winless run for Barnet continues

Getting to watch a streamed game is back to being the best you can get for non-league football, not a chance of seeing live action for many more months if we’re honest. There is now also the real risk of the National League following the North and South divisions requesting a halt to the season over funding issues. But, for now it’s make the most of the opportunity against what are testing times for everyone across the country and the world.

Saturday was the first viewing of watch Barnet since Jan 2nd when they were comprehensively beaten by local rivals Boreham Wood at The Hive to deepen their relegation fears. Since then positive covid tests have confined Tim Flowers men to isolation and the training ground only, but with time for the new manager to work on patterns of play and formations.

As expected three new defenders signed during that barren period, Liam Daly, and Ben Richards-Everton permanently and Themis Kefalas on loan from Championship side QPR but as of yet still lacking the potent striker.

The visit of high flying Altrincham to North London would prove a stern test with the newcomers having won, lost and drawn six each of their games so far sitting in 6th spot at the start of play, Flowers Barnet needing wins rather than draws even with thirty games left to play this season.

Fielding a more attack minded side than has been seen this year Barnet had to throw a little caution to the wind, as stated just above the precarious nature of not only their league position but huge uncertainty as to whether there will be a conclusion to the season in the coming months which if settled by other means than on the pitch could result in relegation.

The Robins have impressed many so far since their promotion and have built a strong side, able to break at speed and that was evident throughout the full ninety minutes when any Barnet attack broke down.

The visitors looked the more likely to create the early openings, enjoying larger spells of possession than the hosts but it was Barnet who took the lead on 14 minutes, JJ Hooper back in the side after injury robbed a Robins defender of the ball and ran through unchallenged to slot the ball past Tony Thompson pretty much against the run of play.

Not that it did much to deter the visitors, their continued pattern of getting the ball down the flanks continued but without really causing the Bees too many problems. But they were back on level terms when Matty Kosylo who was a constant danger all afternoon managed to squeeze a shot through a crowd of players and beyond Scott Loach for the equaliser. Neither side created a clear cut chance after although there was an effort former Bee Byron Harrison could have converted for a Robins half time lead.

The same player missed a real guilt edged chance very early after the re-start which really should have put the visitors in front, Flowers responding with a change of formation as the game wore on to counter the constant pressure heading towards his team’s goal.

Despite this it took until stoppage time with a 2 versus 1 overload down the Bees right hand side, the ball finding its way onto the head of Robins defender Josh Hancock to flick the ball past Loach and the points were heading north.

Whilst this was a much better Bees performance defensively despite the loss the lack of presence in the final third is still alarming. Both Pavey and Hooper ran out of steam long before the end of the game, lack of match fitness for both is very evident and ninety minutes in the tank despite not much of a second half showing was needed for both players.

Good to see Michael Petrasso back from injury as well but without the front men gambling in the box some of the balls he played in today deserved better. Much depends on whether the chairman will gamble on more players given the nature of what is going on off the pitch with the National League which might put a halt on things for a lot of clubs and what we have now is what we  have to utilise for the foreseeable future, big game at Dover on Tuesday night where nothing less than three points can be settled for.

Despite the fact this would have been a good point the gap to safety and then beyond is looking a tall order given it’s run of eleven league games without a win that stretches back to October, wins are at a premium and while defensively it was an improvement today it has to get much better in front of goal or should the season continue then relegation is very much looking a reality.

Roughly 40 more points are going to be required from the 29 games remaining the points are there to be played for, whether there is enough within the squad to get those points remains to be seen, null and void for the season would seem an ideal dream if you’re a Bees fan……….

Sort the mess before we start losing clubs

If you thought 2020 was the year to keep knocking you about, 2021 is looking like not being a lot better for us non-league football fans. Whilst at Steps 3-6 we await the clubs conferring as to whether null and void for the second season is going to be an overwhelming majority verdict Steps 1 and 2 which comprise the National League found out on Monday that their next round of funding could cause a catastrophe.

Having received around £10 million in Lottery funding to complete the first three months of the season, the DCMS has indicated to the National League that the £11 million due to follow is now going to be made up in the form of loans and not grants.

National League clubs were under the impression that to play out this season without fans they would be funded or compensated whichever way you look at it, to ensure every club would survive, but it appears that was a promise made which is now broken.

The wonderful coverage provided by Ollie Bayliss and Thomas Feaheny has added a few extra parts to this. A board meeting for the National League is due in the next few days, no doubt a few club owners demanding answers with the very future of their clubs at stake.

The DCMS have been informed that should the season finish now the cost of furlough for players and staff would actually exceed the cost of making this payment in grants by nearly £3 million, so the maths do not add up, not something I’m surprised at.

Who in their right mind will accept a loan for their club knowing full well there is no set timetable on income once again flowing through a National League football club? This is the same notion they are putting onto clubs in Steps 3-6, take a loan to stay afloat, but we can’t promise you can have fans back in a reasonable timeframe so tough luck!

I know full well having spoken to people inside the three divisions there is a lack of regular Covid testing due to the cost of funding it, now they are being asked to keep playing whilst saddled with a debt to stay solvent or close to it but not an ounce of knowing how different things will become to allow them to return that cash, it’s an impossible situation.

As with clubs being consulted at Steps 3-6 there will split camps of those wanting to continue the season at some point and those would be happy to stop it now and prepare ready for next season.

I can’t see this being any different at National League level to be honest, clubs that have kept a budget high will want to continue in order to get the promotion they want, those who have either cut their cloth accordingly and want to remain on an even-ish keel would likely want to suspend or end the season and then of course those whose season hasn’t panned out so far will be happy to call a halt and get themselves mothballed until a new season can begin.

Just last week 12 National League North clubs called the DCMS to ‘not betray the trust of clubs’ over funding agreements, it clearly appears that is the case. As shown throughout the whole season so far the DCMS have no idea how money works at this level and how clubs fund themselves through fans in stadiums spending money on secondary income.

As we know clubs at this level are not blessed with TV money and huge sponsorship deals and there were some back in September and October who were close to not starting the season, these club are not in any better shape now than they were then, it’s the funding and in some cases deep pockets keeping them alive.

If the National League board are guilty of these false promises then I wouldn’t be surprised to see calls for a few resignations to come in the next few days having failed their member clubs.

Bigger than that the next few weeks could see a lot of clubs contemplating what the future actually holds for them now, those that can and will survive might decide voluntary relegation is an option just to keep their club alive albeit at a lower level reducing expenses against the backdrop of continued no incoming money.

No club deserves to disappear, no supporter should lose their club during these times, but weak leadership is seen everywhere from the DCMS through the FA to the National League, it was only in this weekend’s Non-League Paper Tony Incenzo was remarking how we have gotten to this stage having lost a very small number of clubs during this period, action needs to be taken now before it becomes a huge great roll-call………

The season on a knife edge

As some of you might know I am part of the Premier Non-League Podcast along with five other guys. We’ve just recorded our eighth episode and our first of 2021, focussing this time on the romance of the FA Cup from last weekend, the ongoing National League funding saga and of course the dreaded null and void situation which is being discussed again given the current restrictions Steps 3-6 find themselves under.

Underneath the elite National League divisions, football is looking increasingly unlikely to find itself with time to complete the 2020/21 season. Being completely at the mercy of the government restrictions talks are already underway to gauge how clubs feel with regards to cancelling the season or to providing ideas and ways to have at least a partial conclusion.

It’s easy to see that we are going to have a huge split as clubs are canvassed across the next few weeks. There are those who are in the same situation as last year, leading divisions or in with a chance of promotion with so many spots open as part of the re-structure that should have occurred last year and would no doubt want to carry things on and complete.

There will be clubs who weren’t close to things last year but are in contention this year and will be keen to achieve what they set out to do at the start of the season.

Those whose seasons haven’t panned out quite how they wanted will be happy to call a halt and begin again next season and hope for better times, I don’t disagree that some will decide that financially they also won’t think it’s beneficial to carry on or to re-start for a small account of time.

The volunteer base for a lot of clubs includes those who are currently being asked to shield or just receiving their first doses of vaccination which will of course impact on clubs to not only police the ground when the game is on but also the before of getting a game on and the after of clearing up.

The players of course are paramount. Without them on the pitch there is no game, same goes for officials. It’s easy to forget at times they started the season late after a confused pre-season programme, played for around two months and most have not kicked a competitive ball since early November.

Now we are looking at around four to five months off for these guys since they last played once we get around to March, is there time for them to get back up to a level of match fitness to complete some kind of competition? Will any of them say ‘thanks, but no thanks’, preferring to spend the summer months getting back to speed and going again in August?

And finally we have those of us who try to make a living from the game or just beginning to. This season I began to write for clubs from results round ups to articles written specifically for clubs that asked, those clubs being Southern Combination Premier Division sides Langney Wanderers and East Preston whilst Pitching In Southern League outfit Met Police joined just before the previous lockdown in November.

With the stop start effect of the season and also the knowing cash flow is tight for all, it’s been difficult for me to approach new clubs and really push it along to start to make moves in the market. With the success I enjoyed last year writing this blog with almost 22,000 visitors in a year there is a niche I’ve found where the words are right. But like the remainder of the non-league world I’m waiting to see where things go, I’m not expecting any more football to be honest until next August. I guess what it does do is give more time to hone this product some more and be ready to go to more clubs this summer and giving them something they want for their programme, be it online or in print.

There is a scenario that can be put in the mix should there be a resumption and that is for a split of divisions in two to play some sort of football in March through to May depending on if restrictions are lifted in time, it would bring some closure to the season without it being cancelled, but again it would depend on a lot of factors swinging in favour of the beautiful game.

A last but not final thought has to go to those suffering mentally from not attending games. For many and at times me included not being able to get out to watch a live game has been tough, whilst I don’t mind a bit of football on the TV or streaming via the laptop there is a saturation point to it, nothing beats getting together with your mates watching non-league football, its why we do it and while we know and/or hope these days aren’t far away again for some it’s the highlight of their working week.

For now we wait, hopefully no rash decisions will be made as per last March/April and a more logical approach is taken across the board and while whatever is decided cannot please everyone if they decide to curtail things again, there must a set of rules written up to cover playing a certain percentage of games or less than and sufficient agreement with that for a final resolution, we can’t be sitting here having this conversation again in the future……….