'Football could be finished for the season' - Suffolk managers and chairmen have their say
- Credit: Neil Dady
Suffolk's leading non-league clubs do not want the current 2020-21 season to be cancelled, but fears are growing that this campaign might end up like the last, with all results expunged.
The increased Covid-19 restrictions, and the spreading of the infection, are wreaking havoc on the 'non-elite' non-league stage, from Step 3 downwards.
And there is no clear end in sight, with so much of the country now in Tiers 3 or 4 in response to the growing pandemic.
The Isthmian League and Southern League have been 'paused' since before the start of the month-long lockdown 2, at the beginning of November, affecting Suffolk's top six non-league clubs - Needham Market, Lowestoft Town, Leiston, Bury Town, AFC Sudbury and Felixstowe & Walton United.
Bury Town chairman Russell Ward has suggested a possible complete suspension of football, across all levels, elite and non-elite, while believing that the season could still be concluded by playing just half the fixtures.
Leiston chairman, Andy Crisp, used the word "doomed" to describe the current crisis, although he believes the FA will try everything to avoid another null-and-void campaign.
Over at Felixstowe & Walton United, joint chairman Chris Daynes has detected a new "nervousness" around the footballing world after the weekend announcements concerning the spread of the virus.
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And AFC Sudbury manager, Mark Morsley, believes that the country could be back in a national lockdown after Christmas, with non-league 'non-elite' effectively football finished for the season.
Here's what the main protagonists had to say:
AFC Sudbury manager, Mark Morsley, suggested that the (Isthmian League) season could be completed by splitting the divisions in half and playing home-and-away among the smaller group of teams, although he admits that the more likely scenario is for the season to be shut down for good.
"There are bigger worries to be concerned about than just promotion and relegation this season," explained Morsley this morning.
"To be honest, I think the country might go into another lockdown, immediately after Christmas, and I think that's what should happen.
"If that were the case, then football would be finished for the season, at our level.
"At the moment, there is another review (of the tiers) planned for December 30, but I believe its best to shut everything down.
"Alternatively, if we did get back to playing, there is an idea that we should start the season again, from scratch, by splitting the divisions into two, and the teams from each pot playing each other home and away.
"The play-offs would be ditched, with just one up and one down from each pot. That would take the pressure of trying to play all the games.
"And bearing in mind I am a manager of a club currently sitting in second spot in the table!
"However, I think there is a big chance that there won't be any more football at our level this season, especially if this different strain of Covid continues to spread.
"I have shut down our club for the time being, because I think its now too much of a risk to have players meeting up for training and playing games, with this new virulent strain of the virus.
"And I can't see the league starting again," confirmed Morsley.
Bury Town chairman, Russell Ward, whose side are considered to be promotion contenders from Isthmian League North despite only having played four games to date, would like the campaign to be completed in a truncated form.
Ward does not want fixtures to spill over into the summer, to have a knock-on effect on the 2021-22 season.
He would therefore favour resuming by perhaps, the end of January, with teams playing each other just once for a half-season, with no promotion or relegation.
Yet to help get a grip on the virus, Ward would also support a suspension of competitive football across the board, including at elite level.
"I have no idea what is going to happen, to be honest," said Ward this morning.
"There are a lot of rumours that we (Suffolk) might go into Tier 3 at some stage, which would effectively be Tier 4 for us (in terms of the the ability to stage football matches).
"I hope that they don't just end up cancelling the current season. I guess you could say there is a danger of this, but that wouldn't be good news with regards the amount of season tickets we have sold for the season.
"As no club has played each other twice yet, I think that fixtures could be rearranged so as everyone plays each other once.
"That would at least get the season played out, though in that case almost certainly with no promotion or relegation at the end of it.
"Financially, that would soften the blow for clubs.
"As a club we would obviously love the chance to achieve promotion, but it's not the be all and end all.
"It won't be a big deal if there is no promotion or relegation, and at least a shorter season wouldn't then be spilling over into next season, and so start affecting that.
"We have been dealt the cards that we have been dealt, and we have to do the best that we can.
"Obviously there would be no point in playing matches without fans.
"Steps 3 and 4 have had it particularly hard, playing across a national level, and in a way I can see why the leagues lower down, being more localised, have been able to start playing again.
"Just because a league based, say in Kent, has had to stop with the county being in tier 4, doesn't mean to say that a league in Suffolk has to follow suit.
"I felt that the Isthmian League could have got going again (immediately after lockdown 2), and they missed a chance, though in hindsight it's probably been proved the right decision (to continue to pause the season), although we didn't know at the time what was going to happen.
"We need to get through to January and then reassess it.
"But what I would say is that there has not been great leadership from the FA, to be honest.
"And it's really hard to understand why, with so many leagues suspended, the FA have still insisted on going ahead with their own competitions.
"The FA seems hell-bent on completing their competitions.
"Instead, I think you have to question why we are playing football at all, at any level?
"Everyone should stop and go into a proper lockdown.
"What's been happening at Ipswich Town, with their positive Covid-19 cases, brings that into focus. These six people will have caught the virus from someone, and have probably passed it on as well.
"Perhaps it would be best to stop football across the board, and get on top of the virus.
"Then perhaps we could resume our seasons," added Ward.
Leiston won their first league game of the season, just before the Southern League Premier Central was suspended going into lockdown 2, but chairman Andy Crisp believes that the priority now must be to get the virus under control.
"The word seems to be that we are all 'doomed' at the moment," said Crisp.
"That's particularly the case with regards the non-league scene at our level.
"The Suffolk clubs in our division (Southern League) were worried about the clubs in the Birmingham area a few weeks ago, but now the virus seems to be spreading this way fast.
"I think the message must be to stay safe and to try to get the virus under control.
"We had a double-header planned against AFC Sudbury over the festive period, but we have had to cancel those games, so the club has been mothballed until our Reserves have their next game, on January 2.
"I know that the FA do not want this season to end up being null and void, with results expunged like they were last season, so they will be looking for some way out of achieving this.
"I think they will be looking to complete the season, in some form or other, and to keep promotion and relegation at all levels, because those leagues below us our still going, and so are those above (at Step 2 and 3)," added Crisp.
FELIXSTOWE & WALTON UNITED
Chris Daynes, joint chairman of the Seasiders, senses that there is no longer a strong urge to get football restarted at Step 3/4 level, in the face of the weekend news regarding the spread of Covid-19.
"The fear is obviously there that the season won't get going again," said Daynes.
"Even if we got started again in mid-January, there is no guarantee that we would get the season completed by June, with other potential postponements.
"As a club, it is difficult to plan anything because things are changing on a daily basis, let alone a weekly basis.
"We have mothballed the club for the next couple of weeks, until after Christmas and into the new year, after which we are planning a few friendlies and perhaps the league then starting up again later in January.
"But's it's all up in the air, and I do find it unusual that the FA competitions have kept going. It's either safe or not safe to play football. You shouldn't be able to pick and choose.
"I sense a lot more nervousness around, since the announcements over the weekend, with perhaps not the same urge to start playing football again. I think there has been a sea change.
"Actually, it's only our first team who are not playing. Our Reserves and Under-18s are still playing matches, but it's our first team where all our income is generated from," added Daynes.