Null and void! Heartache for some, relief for others. But clubs should not write off this season...
- Credit: Archant
The season for Steps 3-7 of the non-league football pyramid have been ended. Null and void is the outcome. No promotion, no relegation, everyone will start next season in the same leagues that started this... MIKE BACON takes a look
The news that non-league football from Steps 3 to 7 and women’s leagues below Championship level is over this season due to the coronavirus pandemic will come as a blow to many teams in the game.
Make no bones about it, while men and women’s clubs at all levels are having to – and indeed will – accept the FA’s decision that the season is ‘null and void’, that does not tell half the story on how some clubs feel robbed.
Preparing for a season, having one of which you could only dream of – late winners, table-topping victories, a togetherness in the changing room, that strong, powerful squad, good management, everything seemingly turning to gold on and off the pitch... Well, you can play for 20 years and never enjoy a campaign where it all clicks.
So, for many teams around the country and some of our local sides, this ‘null and void’ decision is a cruel twist.
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Worthing – seven points clear at the top of the Isthmian Premier, Maldon & Tiptree, 15 points clear at the top of Isthmian North, South Shields, 12 points clear at the top of Northern Premier, Stowmarket Town, 15 points clear at the top of the Eastern Counties Premier, Jersey Bulls, 20 points clear at the top of Combined Counties Division One – and guaranteed promotion already!
You have to feel for them and the many others who were about to experience a pretty rare footballing achievement after all the planning, in many cases all the investment and of course, no little skill out on the pitch itself all appeared to be coming together.
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“We’re devastated by the decision,” said Truro boss Paul Wotton.
Truro City are/were top of the Southern League Premier Division South and eyeing a return to the National League South.
Wotton feels the FA have treated lower-league sides differently to how they will deal with professional sides.
“The bottom line is Liverpool would take the FA to court, we haven’t got the money to do that,” he said...
... Is he right? Maybe.
Clearly, the bigger picture is obviously dealing with this awful virus, and nothing is more important. So let me make that clear first before anyone gets excited football isn’t important. In the grand scheme of things, it isn’t. but this is still a talking point.
And with my ‘football’ hat on, the only thing I can’t quite get my head around is why the National League, National League North and South (Steps 1 & 2) haven’t as yet called time on their seasons.
We know professional clubs will do everything they can to get it completed – and likely take court action should that not be the case.
Which is, I suppose why I’m a tad surprised Steps 3-7 have halted as early as March. I know there are financial implications for some clubs, but wouldn’t the end of April have given a slightly better picture?
I mean non-league players and teams would soon rattle through remaining fixtures... Sat, Tues, Thur, Sat.... Some do in during ‘normal’ times.
“These are challenging circumstances for English football and all decisions taken are in the best interests of the game,” said the FA statement over the ‘null and void’ season.
“Our primary concern will always be for the safety and welfare of clubs, players, staff, officials, volunteers and supporters during this unprecedented time.
“The steps take into account the financial impact during this uncertain period, whilst considering the fairest method on how the sporting outcomes for the season will be decided, with the integrity of the leagues in mind.”
There is not much one could disagree about with that statement... For me, just strange it doesn’t include ALL football... Surely all leagues ought to have that integrity.
.... So, what are the chances of clubs who have enjoyed a stunning 2019/20 season repeating the dose in the same division against the same opposition next season?
I’ll wager it will be very difficult for them.
As I once said to my Woodbridge U14s when we won Division Two of the South Suffolk League one year!.... “Enjoy boys, you could play football for another 25 years and never win another league title.” I know, I can pour cold water on anything!
But coming top of the pile in a football division, any football division, is never easy.
Indeed, how many top professional players have never won a league title? Plenty.
Back at grassroots, and doing the non-league podcast with my colleague Carl Marston, we often ask our guests... ‘Cup final win, or League title win – What would you prefer?’
I reckon nine times out of ten they say, ‘League title’.
It’s what you judge a team’s credentials on. Any team can enjoy a cup run, get a bit of luck here and there, win a round or two on penalties and who knows?
Winning a league title is far more difficult and a far bigger achievement.
But as much as there will be those out there upset by the ‘null and void’ decision, plenty will be breathing a slight sigh of relief.
Here in Suffolk and north Essex, the likes of Felixstowe & Walton, Hadleigh United, Brightlingsea Regent, Westerfield United and Leiston, among many others battling relegation nationally, are likely clubs who won’t be overly-disappointed to draw a line under a difficult campaign on the pitch.
The secret for them – and other clubs who may have been given a ‘reprieve’ – is, can they improve significantly next season? They are not likely to get another reprieve. The answer for them has to be ‘we must do’... Start preparations now.
.... So, should we expunge everything clubs have achieved this season?
Does Ipswich Women’s game at Manchester City in the FA Cup this season ever count? Does it matter Stowmarket Town were unbeaten in the league this season, before time was called?
Well, for me, I think clubs SHOULD NOT forget 2019/20
OK, so the season may have counted for nothing in the grand scheme of things, ie. promotion/relegation/play-offs/cup finals/cup runs.
But don’t just put a red line through it all and pretend it didn’t happen.
Have those memories recorded, those goals, those backs-to-the-wall games, last-minute winners. And all the friendships.
In 20 years time when others are looking through your record books... Good or bad... Make sure they know.