Unwell referees, swirling fog, COVID-19 and falling trees – but non-league football is still surviving
- Credit: Archant
We are only a few weeks into an already unusual season, but already non-league matches have been abandoned or postponed for a host of bizarre reasons. From lingering fog to unwell referees; from COVID-19 concerns to tree damage. And that’s only within Suffolk, within the last few days!
Having experienced first-hand the controversial abandonment of Tuesday night’s Isthmian League North clash at Ram Meadow, due to fog with Bury Town 5-0 up and just seven minutes remaining, I was amazed to learn of another abandonment in Suffolk just 24 hours later, at Woodbridge Town’s Notcutts Park, due to an unwell referee.
Only last weekend, the Suffolk & Ipswich League fixture between Haughley United and Henley Athletic did not even kick off, postponed just 24 hours earlier because of tree damage.
And then of course several fixtures were postponed during the first couple of weeks of the season, due to COVID-19 concerns, both in the league and FA Cup.
Here’s a run-down of the variety of causes for abandonments and postponements during this already strange, stop-start season.
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1 A poorly referee
The Thurlow Nunn Premier Division all-Suffolk clash between Woodbridge Town and Stowmarket Town, at Nutcutts Park, was called off after 67 minutes on Wednesday evening, with the score at 0-0, after the referee fell ill.
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Stowmarket, who were running away with the league last season until it was declared null-and-void, were down to nine men at the time, due to two red cards.
Jack Ainsley had been sent off in the 18th minute, for foul and abusive language, while team-mate Danny Cunningham had also been given his marching orders in first-half stoppage time for two bookable offences.
Even so, Stow were comfortably holding on against the Woodpeckers when the match was abandoned, with 23 minutes remaining.
“I couldn’t see us conceding a goal, even though we were down to nine men,” explained Stowmarket boss Rick Andrews.
“The referee began feeling unwell, midway through the second half. He was sick on the pitch and complained that his kidneys were hurting.
“He was taken to hospital. I haven’t heard how he is, but we all wish him well,” added Andrews.
Glenn Snell, joint caretaker manager at Woodbridge, explained: “I have heard the referee was released from hospital, but needs a check-up.
“We all wish him a speedy recovery.
“Of course its been a strange season for everyone so far, and safety is paramount.
“We lost a lot of players over the summer, so we are in transition at the moment. We are trying to improve defensively, which we did do against Stowmarket by frustrating them and limiting their chances.
“We were just short of ideas on the ball.”
The match was officially abandoned because of ‘health and safety reasons,’ and will now be replayed on Wednesday, October 14.
2 Poor visibility due to fog
Bury Town were 5-0 up against Witham Town and coasting to a deserved victory, when referee Murray Grant shocked everyone in the Ram Meadow ground by deciding to call off the match, with just seven minutes left on the clock, due to fog, on a crazy Tuesday evening.
Bury manager Ben Chenery blasted: “I have never come across anything like this, in my whole career as a player and a manager, and it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
“It is a real kick in the teeth!”
Chairman Russell Ward insisted: “Let’s be fair, the game was won, and if we are asked to play it again, we have to decide whether we intend to play it again.
“If we are told we have to replay it, then we might have to make a stance and say ‘no, we won’t replay it,’ and then look at the implications and the consequences. It shouldn’t have happened, and the result should be allowed to stand.”
Isthmian League officials will study the separate reports sent in by Bury Town, Witham and the referee, before reaching a final decision on whether or not the match has to be replayed.
Meanwhile, on the same night, Mildenhall Town’s Thurlow Nunn Premier clash at Thetford Town was also abandoned because of fog, although in far less controversial circumstances.
The sides were level at 1-1, Tanner Call’s 33rd minute opener for The Hall matched by Liam Helling’s quickfire equaliser when the game was abandoned on 40 minutes. The fog was very thick and there were no complaints with the decision.
3 Tree damage
The Macron Suffolk & Ipswich League Senior Division fixture between Haughley United and Henley Athletic, scheduled for last Saturday, was postponed the day before, due to a fallen tree.
Strong winds had caused devastation to a section of Haughley’s pitch and surrounding area, especially with regards one of the goals, which was badly damaged by falling branches.
Both sides remain unbeaten in the division. Henley havee only played two games, and won them both, while Haughley have collected seven points from their first three fixtures.
4 COVID-19 restrictions
Earlier in the campaign, several fixtures were postponed or even cancelled due to COVID-19 regulations, with players either testing positive for the virus, or else awaiting the results of tests.
Walsham le Willows were severely affected due to one of their squad members testing positive for the virus before the start of the campaign.
As a result, they were forced to forfeit their FA Cup extra preliminary round tie at Suffolk rivals Newmarket Town, with the Jockeys therefore awarded the victory.
Walsham’s first league match of the season, at Godmanchester Rovers, was postponed for the same reason. The game was rescheduled for later in the month, on September 12, with the Willows claiming a 3-2 victory.
Also in the FA Cup, at the extra preliminary round stage, AFC Sudbury were effectively handed a bye when their planned trip to Burton Park Wanderers was cancelled due to a home player testing positive. The Northamptonshire club had been eagerly anticipating what would have been their debut in the FA Cup, with the BBC TV cameras also set to be there to cover the match on the website and on the red button.
In short, we are only a few weeks into the 2020-21 campaign, and yet we have never known anything like it for games being abandoned, postponed or cancelled.