A horrible year: review of non-league football in 2020
- Credit: Carl Marston
'Non elite' non-league football will be relieved to see the back of 2020, although an uncertain future still hovers over clubs as we prepare to usher in 2021.
All non-league football clubs in Suffolk spent more time on the sidelines, adhering to government guidelines and the restrictions in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic, than they did on the football pitch.
Most clubs saw about four months of competitive action, and eight months of inactivity, leading to shrinking incomes, cancelled seasons and results expunged.
The first lockdown was introduced in mid-March, which ultimately saw all leagues from below the National League North/South have their 2019-20 seasons declared null and void.
Most leagues resumed by mid-October, but many were suspended (officially 'paused') when lockdown 2 kicked in, at the start of November, including the Isthmian League and Southern League which affected the county's top six non-league outfits.
Suffolk's recent jump from Tier 2 to Tier 4 to combat the surge in Coronavirus cases, from Boxing Day onwards, means that no adult non-league football is permitted for the next few weeks, and almost certainly the next few months.
Financially, this is another massive blow for our non-league clubs, while in terms of matters on the pitch, it is particularly frustrating for promotion contenders like Needham Market (joint top of the Southern League Premier Central), and Bury Town and AFC Sudbury (both going so well in the Isthmian League).
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Players, backroom staff, club officials and of course the supporters have all endured a horrible year.
There is more to life than non-league football, particularly when viewed in the light of the terrible events of the last 10 months, but that doesn't detract from the fact that 2020 has been a nightmarish year for all of Suffolk's non-league and grassroots football.
Here's a run-down of some of our top clubs and leagues:
Bury only played 19 league games throughout 2020, 15 before the first national lockdown and just four this term.
Their last match of last season was a 3-1 win at Walsham le Willows in the Suffolk Premier Cup on March 10 , and their last outing of 2020 was a 2-2 home draw against Romford on October 31.
Ben Chenery's side currently sit fourth in Isthmian League North, with three wins and a draw from four games. They also enjoyed a fruitful FA Cup run all the way to the fourth qualifying round, ending in a 2-1 defeat at Banbury United.
Mark Morsley's men played a total of 20 league games throughout the calendar year, eight of them this season.
Their last match before the first lockdown was a 2-1 win at Romford on March 4, and their last outing of 2020 was a 1-1 home draw against Heybridge Swifts on November 4.
They currently lie second in the Isthmian North table, four points behind leaders Tilbury.
FELIXSTOWE & WALTON UNITED
The Seasiders were in action as late as December 12, losing an FA Trophy tie 3-0 at Basford United.
But they have only played five league games to date this season and have not played a league match since a 2-0 win over Hullbridge Sports on October 24.
In all, Stuart Boardley's men managed just 16 league matches throughout 2020. They were embroiled in a relegation battle with the likes of Basildon, Brentwood and Romford when last season was declared null-and-void.
This season, despite its on-off unpredictable nature, has so far been a roaring success for the Marketmen.
They are second in the Southern League Premier Central, with five wins and two draws from seven games, the same record as leaders Coalville Town.
They also enjoyed a good FA Trophy run, ended by a 4-2 defeat at National League North leaders Gloucester City on December 15.
The Blues won their first league game of this season, which coincided with their last league outing of 2020, a 1-0 success over Kings Langley on November 3.
But they are currently in the middle of a relegation battle, second-from-bottom with five points from eight games.
They played a total of 18 league fixtures during the year. Their last competitive game was a 2-1 defeat at Needham Market in the FA Trophy on December 12.
The Trawlerboys signed off 2020 in 14th slot in Southern League Premier Central, beaten 3-2 at home by Stratford in their last league game on October 24.
Jamie Godbold's side played 22 league games throughout the year, 15 of them during the previous campaign.
THURLOW NUNN LEAGUE
Stowmarket Town were the big losers of the null-and-void 2019-20 season. They led the Premier Division by a mighty 15 points, and were destined to win promotion to Step 4, when the pandemic took hold.
Since mid-March, though, Stow have only played seven league games and have had a change of manager with Paul Musgrove replacing Rick Andrews.
Wroxham top the current table with 10 wins from 10 starts, 15 points clear of mid-table Stow, while Suffolk clubs Brantham (third) and Walsham le Willows (fourth) were both going well before the new Tier 4 restrictions took hold.
A few clubs continued to play league games during December, when the country emerged from lockdown 2, hence the big difference in the number of games played by teams.
In the North Division, Ipswich Wanderers will be hoping that the season restarts soon. They are currently second behind leaders Fakenham, having won nine of their first 10 games. Fourth-placed Lakenheath also harbour strong hopes of promotion.
SUFFOLK & IPSWICH LEAGUE
Crane Sports were clear at the top of the Senior Division when the 2019-20 season was halted and then cancelled.
They were nine points clear of second-placed Haughley United, having played 18 of the scheduled 28 games, when the last round of fixtures were completed on March 14.
The 2020-21 season was still going strong until Suffolk's move into Tier 4 at Christmas, with fixtures played up to and including December 19.
Benhall St Mary and Halesworth Town lead the way, both having played nine games, although Henley Athletic have won five of their six fixtures.
In Division One, Wickham Market (24 points from nine fixtures) are the pace-setters, while in Division Two leaders Ufford Sports (17 points from 10 games) have Elmswell (15 from six) breathing down their neck.