Curtailed, but not the end

After much waiting and wondering but with little expectation the FA finally released details of the Step 3-6 season for 2020/21. As commonly thought the league season is over but the use of wording leaves a lot more debate and opinion to be had.

Null and void were the words used on the 2019/20 season as quickly as the pandemic struck and in hindsight which we all know is wonderful it can well be taken as hasty given the little number of games we managed to play this season.

Void of course means it never happened, those games those appearances those goals no longer exist in the record books. The wording this time around of curtailing a season to me and others puts a different slant on things going forward.

Still correct in the fact we won’t see another league fixture in 2020/21 but there is scope for the FA to be creative or imaginative if you will. Not a lot of credit is sent the way of the FA and opinion from me is rightly so, that’s not to tar some county FA’s with the same brush.

But, by not going down the full void route I feel they will look to see if they can make this season’s results count, maybe not at all levels but if we’re following the lead from the National League of no relegation from Step 2 for a second year running then that has to be applied throughout the pyramid.

Whether they can make it work is another question, do you also call in that famous word of integrity whereby a squad of players this season has achieved eight or nine results only for next seasons squad to be different players which in non-league circles is highly likely..

The second part of this action the FA could take is to complete their restructure of the perfect pyramid which was delayed last year and in all honesty may not happen until a full season is completed.

Project Non-League (@Projectnonleag1 on Twitter) have been campaigning for the FA to reward those who deserve from the course of two part played seasons to move up the pyramid but with no relegation occurring.

There are gaps right from the National League downwards and with the creation of an extra division at Step 4 it will allow for movement and progression for some from Steps 4-6 for those who have spent two seasons trying to do just that.

Steps 1-3 is maybe a little more complicated to agree on who and how they would promote, one or two gaps with possibly the ability of four or five clubs feeling they deserve to be promoted.

I’m sure some clubs if not a lot of them are frustrated at having to play the same sides in the same division for a third year running, if it comes to that it has to be a completed season this time around, no questions.

This morning, I’ve spoken to a club manager at each of the four levels to get their reaction to the decision and what their opinion is should the restructure go ahead.

Adam Hinshelwood, whose Worthing side led the Pitching In Isthmian League Premier Division on both occasions when the season stopped, agrees with the decision to curtail but isn’t convinced at the proposed restructure taking place:

‘I don’t think was any other option to finish the season now especially with spectators not allowed to attend until the end of March, it would mean disturbing the start of next season which we hope is going to be the shining light.’

‘That next season we can have spectators back in and no disruption hopefully, we can then get back to a bit or normality for everyone.’

‘The potential restructure is just another sign of the inconsistency throughout the FA decisions, I saw somewhere that a member of the EFL saying they wouldn’t relegate teams if the National League didn’t and they felt that whatever decisions were being made needed to be consistent at all levels.’

‘I feel that teams who have shown ambition are getting punished the most, it’s all become a bit of a shambles now. If they had kept with consistent decisions for all the levels then there might not have been as much upheaval as we are seeing in my opinion.’

Sevenoaks Town manager Micky Collins had his side in the Pitching In Isthmian South East Division play-offs places when the season was suspended late last year and admits this is the right decision being made:

‘I think it’s the correct decision to curtail the season as opposed to null and void. It leaves the option for the league to revisit the finished totals at a later date if required, null and void would have ended that scenario,’

‘With the on-going crisis who knows what could happen in the future (next season) I think in hindsight the leagues and the FA probably wished they had curtailed last season instead.’

Richard Styles’ Step 5 Tunbridge Wells team were in the top 5 of the Southern Counties East League when the season was suspended back in November, but he agrees there was little option but for things to end for second successive season:

‘It was pretty clear the FA were going to wait for the government roadmap announcement before making a decision. It seems in all honesty they have found a new word to use instead of “null and void”.’

‘I do think it strange to continue the FA Vase at our level though and slightly unfair on players and clubs to rush to get ready to play again with a lot at stake in these games.’

‘As for the restructure I don’t think there should be any promotion or relegation, purely on the fact that not enough games were played, had there been over 50% of games completed it’s a different situation, I can’t say it’s deserved for anyone after 12 or 13 games.’

‘Again, any decision that’s made will not please everyone but it’s about doing it the right way. I think had they decided to restart when we can or continue this season in August wouldn’t be correct either. Clubs, staff and players can all look to pre-season now to prepare for a fresh start.’

Simon Hull whose Step 6 Arundel side had a slow start to the season in the Southern Combination League Division One also felt there was no other option than to finish the season here and now:

‘All things considered namely where we are with the roadmap out of Covid and the time left to complete the season it was the logical thing to do. Clubs can’t survive without generating revenue and sustainability of a football club has to be the number one priority.’

‘I think everyone would like the restructure to be completed following the standard process of a season being completed. I would defer it again until the completion of a full set of games.’

There are a few points to come out as well in the past 24 hours too, as Richard alluded to above the FA Vase is to continue and it will be interesting to see which of the clubs want to carry that on or withdraw from the competition, would we assume that it’s going to be played on consecutive Saturdays until completed ready for a May final? We know this is driven by sponsorship money to continue; we can see that higher up in the game.

I’ve certainly seen more and more leagues starting to release details about possibly holding cup competitions for a month or two. Myself I feel this is needed because there are clubs, players and staff who want to be back involved and fans who want to watch. Absolutely there should be no pressure from anyone anywhere to play in these tournaments should they go ahead, personal choice at the forefront of it all.

For all of those four sections of people listed above, its that little bit of hope and relief that’s been in short supply for a majority of the last twelve months, a brief glimmer we enjoyed in September and October.

It’s the mental health for all that does need some addressing and that’s included in all categories, it’s your own personal opinion if you feel it’s right to get some football in or it’s a wait till pre-season.

Some players might see it as an audition for the new season, getting in the shop window early, some just want to kick a ball again after so much lost time. The same will go for club staff, wanting to get an early mark in front of others, fans will be happy to see the one thing a lot of them live for week to week.

If none of above come off then so be it, but out the box thinking and discussion right from the FA down to the County Leagues should be applauded, it’s not been for the want of trying. A beer and a burger sounds good though to me alongside some football on the pitch, it’s all we’re waiting for………….

Work to do for Flowers and Barnet

With so little football going on it’s harder to find the motivation to write a blog, trotting out the same National League disasters and if you don’t include Barnet FC in that last bit then we’re singing from different song sheets.

Almost twelve months on from that last seen game at Woking, the club is unrecognisable. I’m not a naïve person by any stretch of the imagination, this season was always going to be a nadir compared to the previous campaign but I had been expecting to make a better fist of it.

The relentless Saturday/Tuesday combination was in force once again this midweek as the Bees travelled to fellow strugglers Kings Lynn Town which would have closed the gap between the two clubs to three points with a Barnet win. Town’s financial problems are no secret and without news of further funding coming their way after this weekend’s home game with Weymouth they are unlikely to kick another ball in anger this season.

After Saturday’s flat and leggy performance against Woking, Tim Flowers would have been expecting an improved performance against a side one place better off than his team in the table but with a win at The Hive earlier in the season already in the bag.

Streaming away games for a fan has been hit and miss from what I read across message boards for the National League, indeed Barnet have had their fair share at the beginning of the season, but credit to the club on that side of things they have got it right.

Now we’re in February I really expect these things to work a lot more smoothly as we’re months into the season not games and for this stream to cut out after about five minutes and not be able to access it for another 15 minutes is pretty poor, no apology given either so I can only assume the home club had no idea or didn’t care. I’ll give them the tiny bit of credit for replying to my Twitter message pretty quickly.

Whilst unable to watch the action, the home side scored twice courtesy of ex-Bee Michael Gash, I’d love to be able to tell you if they were well in the ascendancy or poor defending but alas I couldn’t see, maybe a good thing in all respects.

I can only assume as well from tweets by fellow Bees fans that Jack Connors struggled at left back for match fitness having not been involved on the pitch under Flowers so far and was substituted for Alex McQueen straight after the second goal, just as my stream came back to life.

The Bees finally found their way onto the scoresheet just before the half hour mark, Scott Loach’s long goal kick put JJ Hooper in behind the Lynn defence and he halved the deficit. That though was as good as it got for Barnet for the remainder of the game.

Ten minutes later a superb save from Loach prevented Gash from completing a first half hat-trick, the home side going into the interval 2-1 in front, a danger from every set piece they had and Barnet looking like lost rabbits in headlights every time the ball came into the box.

The Linnets should have extended their lead through Sonny Carey five minutes after the re-start, his shot cannoning off the bar and away to safety. Just after the hour mark the game was effectively put out of reach for the Bees as Cameron King finished off a fine move after good work from Adam Marriott.

Then came the icing on the cake for the home side in the final five minutes as Dayle Southwell and Marriott scored within a minute of each other and leave last Tuesday’s win over Halifax as an almost long distant memory.

The win lifted the Linnets out of the bottom three replaced by Weymouth who have a seven point cushion to Barnet, the Bees with two games in hand but the way performances are starting to pan out again that’s pretty hollow.

I’ll admit I didn’t really watch much of the second half, I spent more time following the angry tweets on Twitter from Bees fans and answering messages, it enthralled me that much, pretty much similar when writing this it’s losing its motivation.

Flowers after the game bemoaned the restarts we don’t contest but the sessions are there in training so what is the problem? Are the players not good enough? Mentally can they not take things from one pitch to another? Is it a combination of both or is it something else?

I would say my own opinion is that of a combination of both. No disrespect to those pulling on the shirt, but clearly some cannot compete at this level, they’re getting found out every week. It took Eastleigh just forty-five minutes in the opening game of the season to work out how to beat us and almost everyone has since.

It’s alarming to see how some of last season’s good players have regressed so much this year, is it down to the players around them now compared to last year, are they not able to carry out the instructions wanted because they are mentally not tuned into things?

Having to rely on the FA ratification of the National League vote to avoid relegation is cheap, desperate, but the ways things are going on the pitch it’s the only saving grace.

Not to take anything away from either Woking or Kings Lynn, but full time professionals should be putting in a better shift than this, the cohesion should be tighter.

Tuesday night was the ninth time in 21 league games the Bees had conceded at least three times in a game, any Hartlepool fans reading this must be placing a bet of themselves scoring at least three, what price then a thumping in front of the BT Sport cameras this coming weekend……..

Bees fall flat after midweek high

Whilst the National League remains in a mess and embers of the vote smoulder away there are still games of football to play. Whether they actually mean something to everyone at Step One any more remains to be seen over the next few days and weeks, rumours abound and aplenty.

After Tuesday’s first win over Halifax in what seemed like an eternity, Woking were the visitors to The Hive as Barnet were looking to secure back to back wins for the first time this season, only two previous attempts had been possible.

When I think of Woking, you get good and bad memories. Last season it was the corresponding fixture that saw my first visit of the season and a 2-2 draw coming back from 2-0 down with a stoppage time goal from Ephron Mason-Clark, brought on by continued time wasting from former Bees stopper Craig Ross, more on that later.

The reverse fixture was the final time I saw Barnet in action last season, a quite superb scintillating performance from start to finish which extended the Bees run to one defeat in 17 matches.

That fixture this season was an absolute horror show losing 4-1 at the Kingfield Stadium while Peter Beadle’s post-match interview was the first I saw that felt he had no clue what to do from that game forward, we knew that before then though!

I easily felt we owed Woking a performance for as bad as we were on that day and with the Cards on the back of a poor recent run, it was time to back up the midweek win with another.

But it’s Barnet, never runs that smoothly does it! Losing centre half Ben Richards-Everton in the warm up didn’t bode well for the rest of the afternoon, an understanding developing well between the former Bradford defender and Liam Daly. Not to say Themis Kefalis had a bad game once the nerves had settled down a little, but his presence was going to be a miss.

There wasn’t a lot between the two sides in the opening 20 minutes, Woking cautious not to concede first with some fragile confidence of a bad run, Barnet keen to not to do likewise in a similar vein of mind. Neither keeper was tested either, Scott Loach was beaten however just over that mark only for Daly to head off the line to keep the scoreline level.

Loach was beaten again just a minute later and this one counted, Jamar Loza cutting in too easily from the Woking left and guided the ball past the Bees keeper into the bottom right hand corner, Loza loving The Hive this season having scored twice for Kings Lynn earlier in the campaign.

It then went from bad to worse for Barnet losing their second defender of the afternoon, Jerome Binnom-Williams succumbing to injury and a return to action for the previously out of favour Alexander McQueen.

Woking went in at the break a goal to the good, with Barnet lacking any urgency especially in the final third where the ball wasn’t sticking nor was Michael Petrasso unable to have any influence on the game, although they almost handed the Bees a chance to equalise just before half time but Xander McBurnie couldn’t exert enough pressure onto Ross to force a mistake.

The second half had no real impact from the home side, Woking controlling possession and only a fine reaction save on the hour mark from Loach denied the visitors a second goal. The tempo did pick up slightly with the arrival from the bench of Mason-Clark, but a cheap free kick given away by skipper James Dunne led to a goal which wrapped the game up for Woking.

Charlie Cooper’s free kick went through everyone in the penalty area and struck the post, rebounding nicely into the path of Moussa Diarra who stabbed the ball past Loach.

Antony Wordsworth had a couple of efforts straight down the throat of Ross, who picked up a booking for time-wasting in the final ten minutes of the game (didn’t see that one coming), but beyond that nothing happened for the Bees.

The performance was definitely very flat, very leggy, there wasn’t much left in the tank after Tuesday night so it appeared but there’s very little time to dwell on this one with a trip to Kings Lynn on Tuesday evening and another three points up for grabs.

Interesting to see on social media after some of the reactions from the players about the performance not being good enough, in my opinion it was better than a lot I’ve seen this year and granted some of that doesn’t take much but the squad is low on quality if some need to rest or need injury managing such as Petrasso and McBurnie, the latter getting through 60 minutes on his return from the treatment table.

With the season nearing an ‘up in the air’ moment with seven clubs having voted to null and void the current campaign, how many of those will in the next few weeks declare they no longer have the funds to carry on? While I don’t believe the season will end for all as per the vote to continue, there is a very good chance we may not play everyone twice this year and it’s a free hit for some, time will tell……..

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…..

Bees bag vital win

It’s back to Barnet on this blog, in fact a good couple of weeks since the Bees were last in action. Not much has changed in the world since then apart from ructions all over the National League but that can be for another blog.

Halifax Town. 2nd December, my birthday last year and Beadle’s collection on the way to a massive thumping, 5-0 down after an hour whilst I was making my way round London in Steve McKimm’s cab as a birthday treat to myself, better than the one the Bees would have delivered if I’d watched the stream instead.

Two and a half months on from then Barnet are in a position where draws are no good and wins only are welcome against a backdrop of uncertainty with regards to when, if, or maybe the National League will see a conclusion in any of it’s three divisions. In these times though professionalism is the only thing that can shine through and it’s been a tough ask for Tim Flowers and his staff with what they inherited, but that’s the reason they are now in the job.

There have been signs at times that things are coming together, new players incoming and a more compact team shape. Two recent postponements while might not have helped in getting a run together for results, you only have to look at Eastleigh currently, no covid or weather interruptions and now on a very good run.

What it has done though is allow Flowers to work harder on that team shape and expectation and give them time to gel the team together despite all the uncertainty off the pitch.

It’s pretty fair to say we were owed a performance from that December night, the same can be said when Woking visit The Hive this coming Saturday. Of course there are many differences from those two games to now and on Tuesday evening it certainly looked as if that training ground work and cohesion of team ethic and shape is beginning to bear fruit.

The early exchanges were fairly even as both sides settled into the game, an early chance for Courtney Baker-Richardson who got in front of his man but not enough purchase on it to trouble Halifax stopper Sam Johnson. At the other end Scott Loach made a fine save to deny the visitors the lead on 13 minutes, the impressive Jeff King at the hub of everything going forward for the Yorkshire outfit.

Liam Daly had a half chance to open his Bees account, a half volley which he cut across and ended up just past the post mid-way through the half. The visitors were enjoying more of the possession but Barnet looked dangerous when breaking forward and the Bees took the lead just after the half hour mark.

A marauding run from winger Michael Petrasso saw the Canadian let fly from around 20 yards and the ball slip through the fingers of Johnson to put Barnet in front for the second game running. The goal was Petrasso’s seventh of an injury hit season, a touch of class added to every game he plays in a Bees shirt.

Against both Aldershot and Altrincham in recent weeks Barnet were unable to hold onto a lead and you could only hope game management has been worked upon to defend a goal advantage.

It actually got better for the Bees before the half time whistle, Antony Wordsworth with what can only be described as a peach, a belter, a worldie, hit a half volley that just arrowed past Johnson and into his top left hand corner. Significant because it was the first time Barnet had been in front by two goals all season, we’re in February, you can tell how the season has really gone! And the last time we scored twice in a league match, yes away to Halifax!

Barnet being Barnet couldn’t go in 2-0 up though, immediately after Wordsworth’s wonder strike the Shaymen went down the other end and reduced the deficit in stoppage time King left unmarked at the far post and rifled the ball past Loach.

What you would have expected from that point based on the season so far was for Barnet to capitulate, but what I noticed as they walked off the pitch was the body language of the players, a sense of disappointment they’d let a goal in rather than that goal’s gone in and downhill we go from here, hard to explain but it looked more than it wasn’t going to faze them.

Sure enough it didn’t. As mentioned above the game management for the second half was spot on, every player carried out exactly what they needed to do.

Unsurprisingly the Shaymen threw everything at Barnet, but to a man they were equal to it all from JJ Hooper at the front to the back four, indeed Loach had no serious saves to make to ensure the Bees recorded their first win in 100 days and move off the bottom of the National League table.

It’s almost unfair to pick out from what was probably the best team performance of the season but here goes! Myles Judd as a loan player has had a stop start spell with suspension and games called off and looked like he wasn’t quite up to speed before last night, but that 90 minutes everywhere in the right place for an interception and as Flowers says he likes a tackle, can easily see this becoming a loan until the end of the season should his form continue.

Jerome Binnom-Williams has rightly taken some criticism across social media this season, nothing vile thankfully but a lot of questions around his time on the pitch. Yes, he went missing for the goal Halifax scored but beyond that he did what I think Flowers is asking for, just defend. A long way to go still for this guy but it’s finally looking like he understands what is required of him.

We now have two centre halves in Liam Daly and Ben Richards-Everton who just defend, head, foot, body, whatever is needed, we don’t need anything else there. Goals at set pieces will begin to come next I feel, one routine almost came off with Daly’s shot just off target from Richards-Everton’s header back across goal.

Hooper another one whose been in question as times, for me held the ball up better than he has done all season and put himself about more, also now understanding more what’s being required of him no doubt? Even when Muhammadu Faal came on for the last nine minutes, there was more correlation in his play to be in the right position and make it hard for the opposition.

As stated above Woking at home this weekend, a chance for back to back wins and another side we owe a performance against. The away game was the first time after watching Beadle’s post-match interview that I felt he didn’t know where to go from that game and downhill it went more rapidly after that.

100 days is a long time in the world of blogging and football, let’s hope it’s only going to be four days until the next victory, good news and joy is a rarity at the moment………

Watson: It was a call I wasn’t expecting, I wanted to stay at the club

Here is the final part of the interview with new Billericay boss Kevin Watson:

TK: Contract termination at Ebbsfleet and despite everything that was going on around at the time, had you one eye on planning for next season?

KW: I had more than one eye on it yeah, pretty much before they decided my contract wasn’t being renegotiated. We had the Zoom call between Damien (Irvine), Steve (Lovell) and me, deciding who we were going to keep and who to let go. Steve had the easy job; I had the six difficult phone calls for those we weren’t retaining, something that has to be done if you don’t want to be in the same scrap the following year.

But those boys then messaged and called me two weeks later when I received the same phone call I had to deliver to them, that’s a measure of their attitudes despite not being involved at Ebbsfleet anymore, a sign of the relationship I had with them.

It was a call I wasn’t expecting, I wanted to stay at the club and have another crack at it with your own squad if you like, but it’s football, I was disappointed at the time and everyone knew that. It was then a case of getting over that disappointment and dusting myself off for the next opportunity.

TK: Being an out of work manager during a pandemic can’t have been easy and as I mentioned I chat to Darren (Currie) quite often, he is quite keen to get back into the game as you yourself were.

It’s no secret I championed you, Ian Hendon, and Andy Hessenthaler for the Barnet job at the end of the summer pretty much because I saw what you did at Ebbsfleet in the way you turned them around from a fractured team into a togetherness as a group of players. Did you actually get a call from Tony (Kleanthous) or not?

KW: No! Barry Neville who I got to know through Teddy, represents me and I got through the CV reading stage but that was it, you, and I both know how football works though and I have to say the Billericay one was done so differently and well. I think it went over five weeks in all, three Zoom calls and various interviews with each of the five owners there but they made me feel at ease throughout the process.

And to get yourself in front of 50 or 60 other applicants makes you feel good as a manager or coach especially when you go for a job and hear of some of the other names linked with the vacancy.

The set up though is fantastic, from the first team through the Under 23’s to the ladies’ team and the youth set up each owner has a vested interest in one part of the club to bring to the table, it’s a club that now is moving in the right direction.

TK: The likes of yourself, Darren, Hendo out of work during a pandemic how was it watching football going on but not being involved yourself?

KW: It was difficult yeah I had set myself a target of late November early December when things might start to happen and as it was turned out to be a little bit after that, but there was very little happening. I think there were only one or two jobs coming up in all three divisions, Gloucester I didn’t get to the final stages there, Barnet of course as we mentioned and that was it until I went for Billericay.

TK: Did you get around to many games to watch whilst you were waiting for an opportunity? And when you’ve been in a job do you feel some added pressure when you see out of work managers sitting behind u in the stand?

KW: Oh yeah I had that at Ebbsfleet when I was in interim charge, it was like a who’s who of managers sitting behind me, but then I was thinking what will be will be. Luckily for me the players did well for me and got me the job, but you know why those people are there, either a manager is under pressure or someone is in that caretaker role.

I did get to games, as many as I could but I really wanted to be back in that dug out and for me I was pleased I wasn’t out of the game for longer than a few months.

TK: And of course now back in the game at Billericay Town and despite of course doing a lot for talkSPORT did you feel at any point that the route back into the game wouldn’t come?

KW: At times you do, you don’t want to be out of the game for too long. May to November/December is a fair amount of time and you don’t want to feel you’ve like fallen off the map and will people still remember you and what you’ve done but it’s good when people like yourself who know football still put your name out there and into people’s thinking its then not me spouting off or anything.

In the current conditions we’re playing in, it’s strange, very strange to not have fans inside the stadium, twelve months ago we had all that. You have literally two teams, your staff, their staff, people who work around the ground and the media guys and that is it!

But, as you mentioned when speaking to Smudger there are still three points to play for and of course the games are being streamed so people are still watching despite not being there, but it is weird and I think fans are something that have been taken for granted, we certainly can’t wait to have supporters back in the ground and I’m sure that can’t be any different for any club up and down the country.

TK: The current situation we have with the National League vote and not to get too political with it all, how do you think it will pan out? All three divisions finishing or just the top division carrying on?

KW: I’ll be honest, I have no clue, no clue at all! It changes on a daily basis it’s impossible to predict. I try not to get involved with the technicalities of it all and as a manager and players as players we’d all love to carry on being out there but it literally is politics with the government.

If the funding comes through though as grants we carry on, I have heard murmurs of fans being back in grounds before the end of the season which would be fabulous to see and as we seem to be coming out the other side of this pandemic slowly it’s something we’d all like to do, to welcome them back.

As you are aware our club have gone down the route of fielding our Under 23’s and Under 18’s to protect the future, the first team players are furloughed until things are resolved and they gave a great account of themselves at St Albans, really proud of them for how they played that day.

TK: Is there an eye on what happens beyond this season with all the uncertainty and expectation that the vote will go against playing on?

KW: No, not yet. I think once we get to that point where the decision is made then we decide that we move on and with our thinking too. If we null and void then it begins and of course my players contracts will be up for most in the summer, those I’d want to keep, to bring in. The young lads who played in that league game have given me some headaches to come into the thinking too, but that’s what I’m paid to do, make tough decisions, and put together a good enough squad for next season.

TK: Touching on that performance at St Albans and having to use the players as you did, are you a bit surprised at the time more haven’t gone down the same route? (since the interview, clubs are now starting to explore the same route)

KW: The owners decided to go down that route as not to impact the future of the club whilst we wait for decisions to be made and resolved. So we have five non-contracted players who we put together with the selected boys from the Under 23’s although the oldest one there is only 20 years old, trained on Thursday and played the game on the Saturday.

I’m open and honest enough to say I didn’t expect to get any kind of result there, but I feel I did them a bit of a disservice as to a man they were brilliant all afternoon.

There are a couple within that bunch that I want to tie down for next season, if we carry on this season I’d like to think I’d have them involved.

And if others decide to go down the same route as we’ve chosen to then we might get to finish the season as a whole with everyone playing but not everyone is going to have an Under 23’s to use so we’ll just have to see.

My thanks to Kev for sitting down and putting this all together with me, fingers crossed the next time will be face to face in an office rather than the endless Zoom calls we’re all involved in at the moment.

Watson: I felt everyone’s hard work had gone to waste

Part two of my interview with the new Billericay boss Kevin Watson is below, Kevin talks about his time at Ebbsfleet and what happened in and round the time the season was halted last year before we went into the lockdown:

TK: I watched you three times last season, firstly at Barnet when we won 5-2.

KW: That was a going over that night!

TK: I think it wasn’t long after that game things started to come together for you.

KW: Yeh it was, that game though! We got back to 2-2 and I thought we looked like the only team to go on and win the game, but we conceded immediately after equalising which deflated us and I had turned to Trist (Lewis) after we scored and said we can go on to win this now because we’d started so well but that third goal really did it for us.

I wouldn’t say it was a one off night either as we got a good tonking at Barrow as well but they were a very good side and that game was probably my lowest ebb in football, sitting on the train on the way back was just the worst.

TK: Then I saw you at Maidenhead, they were going downwards you were heading upwards in the table, the performance that night was very strong and the momentum carried forward into the Halifax game which I sat and watched on TV as it was the only game going on in Europe let alone England.

KW: The boys’ strength of character in that Maidenhead game on a Tuesday night not long after we’d been beaten 4-0 at Chesterfield was excellent. I’d made a point for the Chesterfield game in leaving out both forwards, I felt they were stale, Gozie Ugwu and Josh Umerah, and it was a bit of a kick in the teeth for them but also to the detriment of the team that day.

It was 0-0, nothing in the game until the last twenty minutes. Then Nathan Tyson who I played with at Reading came on and scored a hat-trick and it looked like a real thumping on paper but it wasn’t, a capitulation at the end for sure and the goals we gave away were poor, the final score looked far worse than it was.

What I liked though about that game was Gozie only got ten minutes so no time to affect the game at all, Josh I left out of the sixteen completely but after that game he was sweeping and tidying our dressing room and I thought then he recognised he needed a break, his attitude was superb that day.

Both of them were back in on the Tuesday night at Maidenhead and as you saw they were both unplayable, so I took a little bit of credit for dropping them and losing for the response in the next game, That first half at Maidenhead was special no doubt about it.

 For the last few games after that they were fantastic as a pairing and as a result Josh got his move to Torquay and Gozie is up in Scotland doing well.

TK: Watching the game on that Tuesday night you see the togetherness that possibly wasn’t there when you go back to for example the game at Barnet and at Barrow.

KW: Yeah, we definitely ended up with that. We were a work in progress that did get better and better until the season was stopped. We had setbacks, but we always bounced back from them, I think from the 29 games we played from when I took over we never lost two in a row and that shows some resilience from the players.

It’s a very, very tough league as it’s shown again this season, the top 8 will comfortably compete in League Two. We ran Notts County close in the FA Cup, Stockport at home played very well but lost in the last minute, we competed well in most games, just the odd ones like the Barnet’s and Barrow’s in my mind where we came a cropper.

TK: And then waiting to find out you’d been relegated by 0.002 points to the National League South must’ve have been the toughest point to take after the run of form you had put together.

KW: Regardless of what happened to me leaving the club, I felt everyone’s hard work had just gone to waste, where was the integrity in that when we still had seven games to play?

We were fourth in the form table and were due to play Bromley on the coming Saturday and I said to Smudge (Neil Smith) as they were going the opposite way down the table that he wouldn’t have wanted to play us at our ground at that time, he was probably doing handstands at the time!

Great lad though Smudge, have got a lot of time for him, we were together at Spurs and we’ve shared a few phone calls over the last few months, he did invite me down to Bromley to share ideas while I was out of work, very kind of him.

Watson: It was a challenge, a challenge I enjoyed

It’s been a long time coming but this week I finally sat down with Billericay Town boss Kevin Watson to talk about his time at Ebbsfleet Utd, how it was being out of work since his recent appointment in Essex and what it’s like being a manager under the current conditions, here is part one:

TK: One of the things I noticed is on your CV you’ve got a lot of promotions as a player and a coach; do you think it’s something that surprises a lot of people?

KW: Yeh I think so. My playing career was very successful, four promotions at three different clubs, captained Rotherham Utd to back-to-back promotion campaigns, went to Reading and got another one there as well and ended up at Colchester where I picked up the final one.

I was never brash or ‘out there in your face’ as a player and just did what I had to do, all in all nearly 500 games if you all count all the mickey mouse cups as well, so not a bad career overall.

I finished up at Luton Town under Mick Harford with a six month contract around the time they had the money troubles and financial irregularities but ended up retiring as a player there in Dec 2009 after my achilles and calves had had enough so I became assistant to Mick there, we went to Wembley and won the Johnstones Paint Trophy in front of around 52,000.

From there it was Soccer Saturday with SKY for five years and onto Stevenage with Teddy Sheringham which was an eye opener for me, the first real foray back in the coaching game. Then followed a stint as Bishops Stortford manager where I brought a lot of academy kids through having also worked with them whilst managing the first team, the last matchday squad I had there contained seven boys who had come through with four of them starting that day, that was pleasing to see.

After Stortford it was teaming up with Ronnie Moore at Eastleigh, we were going really well there, 7th in the table and having just beaten Swindon in the FA Cup who were a League One side at the time, and then Ronnie was relieved of his duties which we only put down to a clash of personalities with the chairman and that was me done there.

Hungerford was my next stop as assistant to Ian Herring who to this day has become a really great friend of mine despite us only knowing each other about two and a half years, I actually looked forward to doing the two hour drive there and back on a Tuesday and Thursday night getting back at 1am, and on Saturdays because I loved the place and the people there.

For us to stay in the National League South on the budget we had was like winning promotion and we told the boys that, staying up on the last day of the season.

Then November 2019 I had a call from one of the lads I knew at Ebbsfleet Utd who said he thought Ian Hendon was leaving and there might be an opening there and would I be interested. So I went along, had a chat with Garry Hill, drove to Hungerford that evening and told Ian I would be leaving, it was an opportunity for me.

I took training that night and Ian nicely dropped me in it with the lads ‘Watto’s got something to say to you all’. It was a bit emotional I’ll admit as I felt very comfortable there and grown with those boys but there it was and the next day I was in at Ebbsfleet with Gary.

Then literally ten days later Garry lost his job and he said to me not long before ‘there might be a chance for you here, I’m a couple of defeats away from losing my job I think’, but that’s not the reason I wanted to go there, it was a National League club and I wanted to progress back up the ladder.

I was in interim charge for I think five games, winning three and drawing and losing one each off the top of my head. There were loads of impressive CV’s on the chief executive’s desk, some good names in there and I think that those results put me right at the front of the owner’s mind and that’s where the job came from.

TK: And definitely not the easiest time to be involved at the club either.

KW: No, it wasn’t. We had ups and downs I think it’s well documented, and I don’t think I need to go into it too much but it was a challenge, a challenge that I enjoyed and having taken over when we were on ten points from sixteen games I think we finished on 42 points from 39 games and that last win at Halifax effectively pulled us out of the bottom three.

We knew it was only three going down due to the Bury situation and we felt it was such an achievement for not just me or the staff but the players as well as we worked hard on the pitch, in training, we had a settled team and formation of 3-5-2 which I like so much and we nailed it, won the last three away games and from the last nine that we played we had a better record than Barrow who went up at champions. It was a really good time and we were just disappointed that lockdown came about just when it did.

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……………