The beautiful game looks about as ugly as it ever has been

So then. The last 24 hours or so, read lots, spoken to a number of people, answered lots of messages, here we go then the National League ladies and gentlemen!

A warning this might be a long blog, there’s a lot to get through, reactions from those inside the clubs, my own thoughts and what I see as stumbling blocks going forward from today, it won’t be pretty, you might not agree, but above all it’s an opinion nothing more, it’s neither right nor wrong.

Before we get to the main points though as a Barnet fan I’m embarrassed we’ll stay up through default. On the face of it, it looks like Tony Kleanthous made the correct decision in the summer not to spend, to severely undercut the football operation and six months later he’s looking good.

We should have been doing it on the pitch for the next four months or so to get out of the mess we created for ourselves which is what I would have preferred to happen, sink or swim by your decisions, not of others. But, for all intents and purpose it is what it is and Barnet have the opportunity to put a proper club in place under Tim Flowers over the remaining months of the season, a silver lining if you must but a hollow one at that.

Onto the main meal then and once again here we are in the midst of controversy. Whatever this final outcome was to be there was never an option to please absolutely everyone and there will be ramifications to come for days and the next few weeks.

I don’t believe there was ever a doubt in outcome of the vote, heavily weighted towards the top division and with the EFL relationship at the forefront of that it won’t have come as a surprise, but it’s been more how the situation has been dealt with.

A real lack of transparency and leadership is evident which you can trace back to the play-offs last season and continued into this. Commendation maybe for ensuring we had play-offs eventually completed for all three divisions last year but a lack of foresight when attempting to get this season worked has been forgettable.

Funding of course has been the full issue in where we have gotten to now, we are all aware the National League have no minutes of the meeting with the DCMS over what was on offer for the full course of the season is at best incompetent. I’ve served on league and club committees throughout my lifetime, to not have something so simple but vital can’t suggest anything more than a cover up of mismanagement and hanging all 66 clubs out to dry, effectively what they have done.

Two days ago I was informed players and staff in the South and North divisions were told, not via official communications, that no testing was to be carried out ‘a waste of tax payers’ money’ which in effect said null and void was coming. Excuse me, what about some of the £11 million pounds of lottery money than has now been poured down the drain?

While I write this now, I see across social media fans, clubs and chairmen attacking each other because opinion is so divided on what should have happened.

My opinion, well every club of those 66 is vital, vital to someone, vital to its players, vital to its staff and mostly importantly vital to its supporters and its community. The same applies for Steps 3-6 as well and every club has quite rightly looked after its own house but should they have been left to fend for themselves while the league banner they play under seem to not want to get involved.

Last night I spoke to various people around the situation to gauge a bit of reaction:

David Blackmore, chairman of Eastbourne Borough was ‘absolutely gutted’. He said ‘We have been cut adrift by the National League. A majority across all three divisions wanted to continue, majority in the South wanted to continue, yet we don’t continue.’

David’s manager at Priory Lane Danny Bloor is frustrated the season has now ended, ‘Our club just wanted to keep playing; at the conclusion of this we sit 3rd in the league a position we’re very proud of and I hope we can regroup and replicate that again next year.’

Steve McKimm, manager at Tonbridge Angels who had to furlough their players this week in order to protect the club, was gutted at the outcome ‘I don’t think the process was fair, how can the National League have it’s members vote against each other but not in equal amounts.’

Ben Strevens, manager at Eastleigh, is unsure what the future holds for the top division ‘seven teams voted for null and void, what exactly is that going to mean after this weekend for our teams?’

Andy Hessenthaler, manager of Dover Athletic who seem most at risk of not seeing out the season, said ‘I think the mess is just going to continue because as you said nothing has changed, still no money. Seven clubs voted to null and void so will be interesting with what’s going to happen now’.

Kevin Watson who recently returned to the game at Billericay Town like most wasn’t shocked at the decision, ‘No surprise at all to be honest, just really disappointing.’

Adam Hinshelwood whose Worthing side have twice been in pole position for promotion to the National League South questioned the timing of the announcement, ‘It seems strange with the government telling us on Monday the plan for the country and for the National League to not follow suit and also not to stay in line with each other.’

‘I feel for Marc at Dorking who invested in a great team at that level and to see it null and voided again seems wrong on the face of it. It does seem likely Steps 3-6 will follow; we will be ready for whatever decisions are made for our club.’

An increase once again to the furlough scheme as the North and South clubs put their players and staff on leave once again from this morning and attention turns now to the can which is just getting kicked down the road.

Already we see legal action from clubs going in today which if they feel is the right thing to do for themselves so be it, I’m not here to judge the rights and wrongs of what each club feels is its chosen path. Whether they can get any joy or a reversal of decision remains to be seen.

Then we have the seven who voted in the top division to null and void, the next can of worms. What now if those seven, and I’m led to believe Barnet were NOT one of the seven, decide with no further funding their club would go under and quite rightly want to preserve their future? Do we play on with 16 teams expunging all results of those not playing as there is no relegation? Do those seven get asked to furlough the first team and play weakened sides in order to complete the season? Do the National League push Sport England to help these seven clubs as soon as possible? So many questions but when do we get the answers? And these are just the beginning.

To read this morning though that two clubs in the top division didn’t bother replying at all beggar’s belief! Now either they’ve got deep pockets so it makes no odds to them or purely ignorant, surely out of respect to the other clubs in your division you would have abstained?

In all likelihood Steps 3-6 will now also null and void with no chance of Step 3 promotion to the National League North and South bringing another premature end to the season for a second year in a row. The hope now will be for the FA to see sense and take the time to implement their restructure of the perfect pyramid and with it some movement for teams upwards which is deserving, the benefit to playing exactly the same teams for the third year running, not one I can see.

And for the second season running it appears as if the National League and South will run with a team less once again, granted it’s difficult to now work out who would take the missing spot in each division but a lack of contingency plans is as well not their finest hour.

Just a sidenote to this as well, the FA Trophy and Vase. One continues, one suspended and last year’s finals still be played with one of the four participants an EFL club, go figure!

The beautiful game as it’s often referred to looks about as ugly as it ever has done in non-league circles, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a vote of no confidence in both the National League and the FA in the coming months, not a chance this is all going to go away easily…..

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……………

Bridges claim cup win

It was a Tuesday night before lockdown and a mad rush to get in as many football matches as possible before battening down the hatches for the second time this year.

Although to be fair, Three Bridges vs Worthing in the Sussex Senior Cup was always going to be my destination far before the realms of unpredictability rolled the dice once again, a second viewing of Bridges and a third of the Mackerel Men.

Having caught my first 0-0 of the season the previous evening in the same competition I was hopeful that was just a blip and more goals would be on offer, well that 0-0 had to have a penalty shoot-out, so not counted really is it!

One huge bonus for the visitors was the return of Alfie Young to the heart of the defence, a big player for Worthing and one needed since Aarran Racine decided to step away to concentrate on his business.

Having seen both sides in action at least once already this season, there was less of an unknown quantity about either side. As you would expect the Mackerel Men had most of the possession but Bridges were content to make the most of the play when they had the ball.

The first real chance of the game came on 16 minutes, Worthing Mo Diallo was denied by Bridges stopper Kieron Thorp after fashioning a chance himself. Bridges though came back and ex-Mackerel man Brannon O’Neil brought a fine save out of Roco Rees in the Worthing goal.

With Worthing enjoying their better spells down the flanks, the next good chance came from Dajon Golding cutting in from the right wing but blazing wildly over when looking set to open the scoring.

The game should have turned on its head in the 42nd minute, a lunging challenge from Bridges centre half Dean Lovegrove on Jasper Pattenden saw the defender receive his second red card in as many matches and leave his side with just over half a game to complete with ten men.

Worthing certainly had a little more intensity in the second half, trying to pull Bridges across the pitch and make the most of the extra man advantage but the hosts made the visitors work hard defending well against Diallo and Omar Koroma, not allowing either striker much sight of Thorp’s goal.

Koroma did get a sight of goal just before the hour mark, bursting through the Bridges defence beating Thorp but hitting the defender on the line which kept the scores level.

The hosts were increasingly creating chances on the counter-attack as Worthing pushed forward trying to break the deadlock and indeed were nearly caught out as Gayler sent the ball over Rees goal when well positioned.

The Mackerel Men made them pay for that miss as substitute Ollie Pearce was slipped in and fired emphatically past Thorp to give Worthing the lead on 82 minutes.

The lead was to last no more than a minute as Bridges replied immediately through John Lansdale. Skipping through the Worthing defence, the ball found it’s way through to Lansdale hammered the ball past Rees to give Bridges renewed hope and a way back into the tie.

Worse was to come for Worthing as minutes later Curtis Gayler finished off a fine counter-attack with a measured finish past Rees to give the home side the lead and under three minutes left to play.

Koroma thought he had levelled the scores in the last minute, a Golding cross picking him out in the six yard box but the tall striker’s header hit the bar and the loose ball cleared away to safety.

Bridges held firm in stoppage time despite a barrage of balls into the box and secured their place in the last sixteen of the cup at the expense of their higher league placed opponents.

After the game I caught up with Worthing boss Adam Hinshelwood to get his views on the game:

‘Bit frustrated we didn’t take our chances, but we should have had a penalty in the first ten minutes instead of an offside decision going against us which changes the game in my opinion, but on the night we didn’t show enough quality in the final third and they fully deserved to win.’

‘We made a lot of poor choices on the ball and clinical ruthless finishing was lacking for me, we would turn down a simple pass for a more difficult one. It’s football though, it happens and we’ve already identified improvements to be made and the players like myself will be working hard to improve.’

‘Great to have Alfie (Young) back, a real big player for us and the way we want to play, but for the two goals last night I have already had a conversation with him on how he could’ve done better in both situations and potentially prevented them which he agreed with, so he will learn from it and that’s what this group of players do, they are honest, hard working and Alfie epitomises that, he is very brave to get on the ball and play it out from the back.’

‘With the lockdown coming in, its very frustrating but it is what it is we have to deal with it and then try and find the momentum we were building in the league on the return. Hopefully, a shining light will be that the pitch can be done in this time.’

‘We’ll try and do some Zoom sessions with the boys over the next four weeks and keep in touch with them as much as we are allowed to do, obviously no training for the same period of time I hope has no or little effect when we do re-start.’

Rebels made to work hard for points

The end of September and a fruitful month for football. Eleven games watched since the 1st September in total, bearing in mind I normally get to about 20-25 games in season it appears I’m on a bit of a mission!

To finish off the month I was at Lewes vs Worthing on Tuesday evening to see Adam Hinshelwood’s side for the second Tuesday in a row and hopeful of a better result than the previous week. Standing in their way were Hugo Langton’s Lewes side, looking for a first league win of the season in an East vs West Sussex derby.

Roco Rees, on loan from Premier League Brighton, was back between the sticks for the Rebels whilst Dajon Goulding started up front against his former club no doubt eager to find the back of the net.

The Dripping Pan was split between ‘FRIES’ and ‘PIES’ to keep to social distancing rules, Pies where I was situated with Rebel Yell co-commentator and fellow PNLP podcaster James Easton, took in the terrace behind the bottom goal and the sideline stand.

The Rebels made the early running, Golding having an effort cleared off the line while Jasper Pattenden was inches away from opening the scoring, curling the ball just beyond the far post. Soon after, the hosts were reduced to 10 men, Golding sent clean through, Lewes’ keeper Nathan Stroomberg handled outside the box and the referee had no alternative to send the stopper off. When it’s not going for you, it’s really not and currently for Langton and Lewes that is definitely the case.

Despite the man advantage, Lewes made Worthing work hard across the pitch and there was a struggle for the Rebels to get any fluid passing movement going although they were getting joy down both flanks with the pace of Pattenden and Reece Meekums giving the full backs the runaround.

On the half hour though Worthing made the breakthrough, Golding received the ball outside the box, jinked inside and after shifting the ball to his left let rip blasting the ball past substitute keeper Gary Noel.

The lead however was not to last long, a short back pass from Danny Barker left Rees with little opportunity but to slam it against the onrushing Jude Arthurs and the ball ending up in the back of the net for the equaliser which sent the sides in level at half time.

The second half bizarrely opened up with Lewes’s third goalkeeper of the night, Noel replaced by Nic D’Arienzo. It also came with more purpose from The Rebels to spread the play across the pitch to try and stretch the one man advantage, something they didn’t manage to do too often in the first half.

Ricky Aguiar, a first half substitute for Jesse Starkey, almost embarrassed the new keeper from the kick-off, his 50 yard lob only slightly off target. To add to the attacking firepower on the pitch, Hinshelwood sent on Tom Chalaye for Leon Moore to try and press home the advantage the extra man was starting to bring.

Just a minute after the youngster’s introduction, Worthing were back in front, Meekums dancing his way through the hosts defence and the ball was turned into his own net by Leon Redwood with Ollie Pearce waiting to pounce behind him.

Chalaye thought he had extended the lead on 67 minutes, but D’Arienzo was equal to it, pulling off a fine save but was unable to stop Golding scoring his second and Worthing’s third a couple of minutes later, a delightful finish from Pearce’s cross to put the gloss on a much improved second half performance.

There was a very good chance for Lewes to drag themselves back into the game just before the final ten minutes, but Rees was equal twice to the efforts and the points headed back up the A27 with the Rebels and three league wins out of three to start the season.

You feel there is much more to come from Hinshelwood’s side, they haven’t yet hit their stride but still unbeaten, you can’t argue with that and if there is much more to come the Rebels are definitely going to be in the mix once again this season.

Credit must go to Lewes however, they made Worthing work hard for the points across both halves and if they can get that bit of luck going their way to match the hard work shown in this match that first win surely won’t be too far away for Langton and his team.

Rebels stung by Wasps

Tuesday night was FA Cup action once again, so far I’ve managed to watch a game in all three rounds which again is another first for me this season, creating quite a few of those so far in the early days of the 2020/21!

It was also the first chance to take a look at Adam Hinshelwood’s Worthing as they travelled to division lower East Grinstead in the first qualifying round, the Rebels not changing too much from last season’s squad as they attempt to win promotion into the National League South.

This was also a first visit to the home of The Wasps for me and it’s a nice tidy little ground, well set out for social distancing inside the bar and around the ground as you would expect for a Step 4 club, temperature taken on the way in and off you go!

The Worthing starting eleven had a familiar look to it for me with the likes of Jesse Starkey, Joel Colbran, Jasper Pattenden and Reece Meekums to name a few added to by newcomers Mo Diallo, Leon Moore and Sam Keefe whilst the unavailable Rocco Rees saw the return of Jack Fagan between the sticks.

It was the hosts who started the brighter despite Worthing keeping most of the possession and moving the ball quickly across the surface into feet, as it was though a peach of a free kick from Starkey from 25 yards out gave the Rebels the lead.

Standing in line behind the free kick, it was easy to note the wall was not far enough over given the potency of Starkey’s left foot and the ball was bent around said wall and into the top left hand corner.

Both sides then traded chances as Worthing tried to settle the game down while their hard working opponents battled hard going up the slope. The visitors went into the interval two goals to the good, a strong run and shot from Marvin Armstrong was spilled by the home keeper and Diallo was on hand to tuck in the rebound and appear to put Worthing well in control a minute before the break.

The hosts came out with good purpose in the second half and Worthing initially struggled to get a measure of the game resulting in Grinstead pulling one back early on through Theophanous after a fine save from Fagan but couldn’t drop on the ball.

The game then swung from end to end with good chances for both sides, the home side thought they had equalised just past the hour mark, but Uwezu was ruled offside to keep Worthing in front.

A double change for the visitors saw Diallo and Pattenden depart for Dajon Golding and Shaq Gwengue just before Wilson rattled Fagan’s bar with the ball coming back out to safety.

Worthing thought they had made the game safe in the 73rd minute, a breakaway from Gwengue saw the striker slip down the right hand side and crossed low for Golding to drag the ball back and past the keeper for 3-1.

At that point the visitors looked home and dry but what I believe was the wrong substitution made with Ollie Pearce coming on for Gwengue, following a disagreement between the striker and Hinshelwood, instead of a midfielder to shore things up a bit allowed the hosts to get themselves back into the game and that they did in fantastic style.

Theophanous added his and the home side’s second goal ten minutes from time and while the Rebels were reeling from that blow, Thompson broke away past the Worthing backline and levelled the scores with six minutes to play.

With no more goal scoring action it went to penalties and the first four dispatched from both sides all went to the keeper’s left and into the net. At 2-2, Armstrong went down the middle to find his shot saved whilst The Wasps went 4-3 in front and it was left to Ricky Aguiar to send the 5th Worthing penalty over the bar and the hosts into the second qualifying round.

East Grinstead certainly deserved the win following their second half performance but Worthing would have felt at 2-0 and 3-1 up they were in control of the game, but that’s cup football for you, a great game for the neutral but hard if you were wearing the red of the Rebels.