‘Massive rethink’ required if non-league Covid-19 suspension spills over into next year
- Credit: Archant
Football writer Carl Marston talks to Bury Town chairman Russell Ward and managers Mark Morsley (AFC Sudbury) and Rick Andrews (Stowmarket Town) about the suspension of the non-league season
Bury Town chairman Russell Ward believes that there will have to be a “massive rethink,” if the looming suspension of the non-league and grassroots season spills over into next year.
And that appears the likely scenario, with both AFC Sudbury manager Mark Morsley and Stowmarket Town boss Rick Andrews predicting January restarts, at the very earliest.
The new lockdown measures which come into force on Thursday, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, will involve all leagues from Step Two downwards calling a halt to their seasons over the next month.
The lockdown is at present set to end on Wednesday, December 2, but there is no guarantee that local non-league football will resume immediately after that date.
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Prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed the inevitable yesterday afternoon: “I bitterly regret that we have to curtail for 28 days (non-elite) football clubs.”
Speaking earlier in the day, Bury chairman Ward explained: “We do expect the season to be suspended for the next four weeks, which will obviously be difficult for all clubs concerned.
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“The indications are that we will able to furlough our players again, like last season, which is something, but basically we will have to shut down the club like during the previous lockdown.
“The problem for us is that because of good runs in the FA Cup and the FA Trophy, we were supposed to be fitting in seven games over the next four weeks.
“There will be seven midweek dates available between the beginning of December and the end of the season, but obviously games being called off due to bad weather might come into play.
“We just hope that it is only a one-month suspension. I think the leagues could cope with that, but any longer and it becomes more difficult.
“Personally, we have had a very good start to the season at Bury. It was disappointing to exit the FA Cup (at the fourth qualifying round stage at Banbury United), but we earned some money out of that cup run.
“Now it’s back to the league. It is fortunate that the League Cup is not running this year, but it might also be wise for the Suffolk Premier Cup not to be played this season, to avoid too much fixture congestion. That might mean too many games to cram in.
“However, if the season ends up being halted for more than a month, and the suspension goes into the new year, then a massive rethink is needed.
“We certainly want to avoid messing up two seasons. We can’t have matches going on into the summer because clubs need to prepare their pitches for the following campaign, during the summer months,” added Ward.
AFC Sudbury manager Mark Morsley, whose side are riding high in third spot in Isthmian League North, fears that the season might not resume until the new year.
“I don’t see any other way but for our season to be suspended, because we won’t be playing matches behind closed doors with no supporters,” explained Morsley this morning.
“We have players under contracts, and we would be liable to pay them if we continued to play matches, so I assume our footballing staff will be furloughed again, like earlier in the year.
“I am not a fan of lockdowns, but I doubt whether this will be over in just one month.
“Just one month would be manageable. Most of our players would be able to keep themselves fit with their own training, and with a series of zoom meetings, so we could be up and running quite quickly after a couple of training sessions on our return.
“But I can’t see this being only a month,” added Morsley.
Likewise Andrews, the boss of Thurlow Nunn League Premier side Stowmarket Town, is anticipating a long lay-off.
“If supporters can’t come and watch, then matches won’t go ahead. It will be no different to when this first started, eight months ago,” said Andrews.
“The league have done well to get in so many games already, but I can’t see us getting back until January.
“The players won’t be able to train together during this period, so matches wouldn’t be able to start straight away after the four weeks. You’re perhaps looking at the weekend of December 12, as the best scenario, and then you are going into Christmas period.
“I am thinking January for a return, at the earliest” added Andrews, whose Stowmarket side have had to call off three matches due to a player testing positive for Covid-19, including tomorrow night’s fixture against Long Melford.
LEISTON 1 KINGS LANGLEY 0
Meanwhile, Leiston finally recorded their first league win of the season, just before the majority of non-league headed into lockdown, thanks to Jamie Eaton-Collins’ 79th minute winner against Kings Langley in a 1-0 success last night.
Leiston had begun the night rock-bottom of the Southern League Premier Central, after gathering just two points from their first seven league fixtures with a couple of draws and five defeats.
But the Blues, fresh from a win over Worthing in the FA Trophy last weekend, added the right result to their recent improved displays to clamber off the bottom of the table.
All non-elite and grassroots football, below Step 2, will be suspended from Thursday as the country enters a second lockdown, initially for just one month, but Leiston at least signed off in style.
Substitute Eaton-Collins came up trumps with the winner, with just 11 minutes remaining. He fired home from the edge of the box to earn a welcome three points for joint managers Chris Wigger and Darren Eadie.
Kings Langley began strongly and should have been ahead early on, only for home keeper Sam Donkin to superbly save Harrison Crawford’s fourth minute penalty.
The visitors continued to press. Bradley Wadkins was denied by another save from Donkin on nine minutes, while Gary Connolly was off target with another chance.
Dylan Switters threatened first for Leiston in the 17th minute as he drilled narrowly wide. Josh Hitter also peppered the target at the midway point of the half, as did Switters with a half-volley.
Finlay Barnes looked sharp and had an opportunity to break the deadlock on 64 minutes, but substitute Eaton-Collins finally grabbed the goal that Leiston had so deserved, in the 79th minute.
Barnes burst onto Will Davies’ assist, with seven minutes left, but could not beat keeper Alex Tokarazk, yet victory was secure.
LEISTON: Donkin, Keys, Saunders, Eagle, Knights, M Richardson, Barnes, Hitter (sub Hammond, 90), Davies, Switters (sub K Richardson, 87) Wilkinson (sub Eaton-Collins, 58). Unused subs: Bailey-Dennis, Jackson.
- Also last night, in the Thurlow Nunn Premier, Hadleigh United drew 2-2 at home to FC Clacton. A brace by Mekhi McKenzie put the Essex visitors 2-0 up at the break, but goals from Kyle Cassell (49) and Kade Ivatt (65) rescued a point for the hosts.
Mildenhall Town beat Swaffham 3-1 in the same division.
Felixstowe & Walton United’s scheduled Isthmian League North fixture at Cambridge City this evening has been called off, with the home club citing Covid-19 concerns.
In response to this news, Seasiders joint chairman Chris Daynes issued the following statement:
‘Felixstowe & Walton United were contacted this (Tuesday) afternoon by Cambridge City to inform us they would not be fulfilling our scheduled Pitching in Isthmian League fixture on Wednesday 4th November due to Covid concerns surrounding members of the coaching staff and volunteers being in contact with someone from another club who subsequently tested positive.
‘The offer was made to reverse the fixture to the Goldstar Ground but this was rejected by Cambridge.
‘City then contacted the Isthmian League to inform them they would not be playing the fixture. The match is therefore postponed.
‘The Isthmian League will now determine the next steps regarding the outcome of this fixture.
‘We wish those in isolation at Cambridge City well and apologise to our supporters who had planned to make the final trip before lockdown.‘
However, AFC Sudbury’s home match against Heybridge Swifts is on, in the same division, the last chance to watch non-elite football before the suspension kicks in tomorrow.