It’s a big let down: Suffolk clubs react angrily to decision not to resume Step 3 and Step 4 league football

Bury Town midfielder Jake Chambers-Shaw appears to be fouled, earlier in the season Unfortunately, the Isthmian League...

Bury Town midfielder Jake Chambers-Shaw appears to be fouled, earlier in the season Unfortunately, the Isthmian League will not be resumed this month. Picture: NEIL DADY - Credit: Archant

Suffolk clubs feel badly “let down” by the decision of the Trident Leagues not to resume playing league football, following this week’s vote featuring all 224 clubs.

Happier times: action from the Suffolk derby in the Isthmian League, between Felixstowe & Walton United (red and white)...

Happier times: action from the Suffolk derby in the Isthmian League, between Felixstowe & Walton United (red and white) beat AFC Sudbury 3-2. Picture: DAVE FRANCIS - Credit: Archant

Out-spoken AFC Sudbury boss Mark Morsley slammed the Isthmian League for “not looking after their clubs,” while Bury Town chairman Russell Ward has labelled it a “sad, day day for Step 3 and Step football.”

The Trident Leagues, made up of the Isthmian League (including Bury Town, Felixstowe & Walton United and AFC Sudbury), the Southern League (including Leiston, Needham Market and Lowestoft Town) and Northern Premier League, confirmed yesterday that league fixtures would continue to be ‘paused.’

All Suffolk clubs were keen to return to action as quickly as possible, after the three-tier system was introduced following the end of lockdown 2, with re-starts planned either for next weekend or the following Saturday, December 19.

But instead, it now looks very much like the leagues will continue to be suspended going into the start of 2021, with no guarantee that they will even resume in January unless the government relaxes the tier restrictions.

AFC Sudbury manager Mark Morsley, feels let down by the Isthmian League

AFC Sudbury manager Mark Morsley, feels let down by the Isthmian League - Credit: Archant


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Voting among Isthmian League clubs was tight, with 47 agreeing with the proposition to continue the pause in fixtures, and 33 disagreeing, plus one abstention.

But overall, taken across the three leagues, 76% of clubs agreed that fixtures should not be sanctioned at this time.

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This must put the whole season in doubt, in terms of completing it to fulfil promotion/relegation requirements, even though league programmes have been extended until late May, and might even spill over into June.

Here’s what some of the key figures on the Suffolk scene, associated with Step 4 clubs, had to say:

Bury Town chairman Russell Ward, frustrated that the Isthmian League season is not about to restart

Bury Town chairman Russell Ward, frustrated that the Isthmian League season is not about to restart - Credit: Archant

AFC SUDBURY BOSS MARK MORSLEY

“I feel that we have been let down, completely let down.

“I think that they, the Isthmian League, have a responsibility to their member clubs, not their member leagues.

Leiston players celebrate Finlay Barnes' first goal of the game during a dramatic FA Trophy tie against Worthing from...

Leiston players celebrate Finlay Barnes' first goal of the game during a dramatic FA Trophy tie against Worthing from earlier thsi season. Leiston do not know when the Southern League will be resuming. Picture: HANNAH PARNELL - Credit: Archant

“I get the fact that clubs in Tier 3 can’t play football (behind closed doors), and it would be wrong to force them to play.

“But since lockdown, the likes of ourselves, Bury and Felixstowe have all had really good crowds, with people really wanting to go and watch non-league football.

“It’s a safe environment, watching non-league football with socially distancing in the open air, outdoors, and all the Suffolk clubs have had good numbers coming through the gate.

“Fundamentally, clubs in Suffolk have big followings, and these were likely to get bigger in the current climate.

“Sure, we can’t sell beers in the clubhouse (only with a substantial meal, and without members of different households mixing), but we could work ways around that so that clubs could maximise their incomes.

“But the league, without any due consideration of clubs’ losses, have cost us money.

“In my humble opinion, the Isthmian League has not done due diligence when it comes to looking after their clubs.

“Everything has changed during the pandemic, people’s jobs and people’s lives.

“But the league cannot hide behind a wall of silence and show a massive lack of any commitment or management in real terms.

“In all honesty, what has what’s going on in Birmingham got to do with Suffolk? It’s like comparing apples and pears.

“All regions are not the same, which is why the government has chosen the tier system, and I think it’s been very conservative in terms of the risks, because the rates are very low in such areas as West Suffolk and Tendring, and yet we are still in Tier Two.

“The league has come up with a nonsensical statement, which helps no one. There is no structure with their plans.

“I think the league have made a decision to make their life easier. They have basically made a decision not to make a decision!

“They have kicked the can down the road. There is now more uncertainty than there ever was.

“Non-league clubs at Step Four and above, and some at Step Five, are not just football clubs; they are businesses.

“Businesses needs ideas, and they need stability and dates to work towards.

“It’s a big let-down.

“And the real losers are the old boys that I speak to every Saturday afternoon, the loyal fans that come year-after-year, the retired and the widowers.

“They are the losers of this non-decision made by the Isthmian League. You find these sort of fans at every football club up and down the land.”

BURY TOWN CHAIRMAN RUSSELL WARD

“There was an air of predictability about this decision.

“At the zoom meeting earlier in the week, I could sense that most of the people talking had their glasses half-empty, and yet they were speaking on behalf of clubs only in Tier Two.

“I felt that they couldn’t be bothered to try and do anything about it, to resume playing football.

“We at Bury Town were all geared up to to make the best of it, but there were too many negative people.

“I also felt that the question was worded the wrong way around.

“I do not accept that there was a ‘pause’ to the season. We had a date for a restart, all the fixtures were in, and we could have started from this weekend, so there wasn’t a pause.

“I think that these people have to take a long, hard look at themselves, and question why they are even in football.

“Too many clubs were not interested in starting again.

“I think it’s a sad, sad day for Step 3 and Step 4 football.

“And I can’t see us receiving any grants, because we have just made a decision not to play, so why give us any grants?

“For all we know, Suffolk could end up being in Tier Three by January, judging by what has happened in Wales with their rates shooting up after coming out of a national lockdown.

“Things could go bang by the second week in January.

“As it stands, I have 34 teams at Bury Town and 32 of them can play. The only two teams that can’t play are the first team and the under-23s.

“I think in time their decision will come back to bite them, allowing clubs to have the collective authority to say when they want to play football.

“And for us, it would be totally unacceptable for the season to be extended into June. We are not even happy with the season extending to late May, because that would then put us on the back foot for next year.

“There’s no point in messing up another season as well.

“Overall, I am very disappointed.”

FELIXSTOWE & WALTON UNITED JOINT CHAIRMEN

(Official statement from Chris Daynes, Andy Clarke and Matt Hope)

‘We are incredibly disappointed with this result. We fully understand the challenges going on in the World right now and where football comes in the grand scheme of things.

‘But we now have a situation where the Government has authorised us to play, in a safe, managed way just as we did prior to the second lockdown, having spent many thousands of pounds to create a safe environment for our players, supporters, staff and volunteers, but we are prevented from playing.

‘We of course also recognise the immense difficulties faced by clubs in Tier 3 areas, where it would be impossible to play without supporters, which is why a regional approach should have been taken to a regional problem.

‘We have always been a ‘can do’ club, looking at ways of making things happen rather then reasons why we CAN’T do something.

‘We feel a solution could have been found to take care of those with tighter restrictions, whilst allowing those who can play to do so. Instead, we have a situation where EVERY clubs future has been put at risk, rather than just those in Tier 3.

‘The argument is given that those clubs would have fallen behind in fixtures, but that happens each season anyway, from lengthy cup runs to weather and poor pitches causing multiple postponements. A solution COULD have been found if only we had tried.

‘We were told at the meeting that each club shouldn’t think of their own circumstances, but take into account the needs of all clubs, but I defy any club to vote for something that puts their very existence in doubt.

‘That is why a flexible approach should have been considered to take into account each clubs own circumstances, rather than an across the board decision that affects everyone, when circumstances vary so greatly.

‘This club has overcome many challenges over the years, but after negotiating perhaps the biggest of them all over the last 8 months, we now genuinely fear for its future more than we ever have.

‘Without football, without supporters coming into the ground, without sponsors getting their exposure… but with all our bills still to pay, where do we go from here?

‘If we can’t play now, do we think we will be able to in January? The longer we cannot play, the more grave the problem becomes for us.

‘With the government “Winter Survival Fund’ being made up of loans, rather than grants, it is unlikely clubs at our level would take on any loans to replace lost income, with no prospect of being in a position to pay them back.

‘Despite football being way down the list of priorities in the midst of a global pandemic, the mental, physical and social benefits would have brought about some welcome relief. We can only hope we get the opportunity to bring those benefits to the community once again.’

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