Non-league dilemma: Is it time to call off the season?

stowmarket

Stowmarket Town goalscorer Jack Ainsley, left, celebrates his goal with team-mate Josh Mayhew during an FA Vase victory over Eynesbury Rovers last month - Credit: Paul Voller

There seems very little prospect, as it stands at the moment, of the 2020-21 non-league season resuming for 'non-elite' clubs.

Following on from the cancellation of last season, for all leagues below Step 2, when all results were declared null and void due to the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, the same sad fate could befall this campaign.

Suffolk's leading non-league clubs, in the Southern League and Isthmian League, have not been in league action since their divisions were 'paused' at the start of November, while all adult non-elite and grassroots football has been halted since the county entered Tier 4 with its accompanying severe restrictions on Boxing Day.

Here, club managers from an assortment of divisions have their say about what the immediate future might hold, and whether they believe there is any chance of the stop-start 2020-21 season being completed.

Midfield action Felixstowe & Walton United and AFC Sudbury in the Suffolk derby earlier this season.

AFC Sudbury (yellow shirts) taking on Felixstowe & Walton United in an all-Suffolk Isthmian League clash from earlier this season. Picture; DAVE FRANCIS - Credit: Archant

MARK MORSLEY (AFC SUDBURY, ISTHMIAN LEAGUE)

"I don't see us getting going again in the new year, or this season restarting, even though I am an eternal optimist.

"I frankly don't see any chance of us starting up at all. In fact, the sooner this season is officially declared over than the better, because I can't see anything happening in the foreseeable future.

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"As I've said before, if there was a chance of the season restarting before March or some time, then I would be in favour of splitting the divisions into two and getting a champion from both pools, but I can't see that happening especially as it would require other leagues to do the same.

Also: A horrible year - a non-league review of 2020

"I just think the FA will keep kicking the can down the road, and not making a decision.

"And even if it (the virus) cleared up in a hurry, with (infection) numbers going down, I can't see us getting the go-ahead to start again very quickly.

"There's no way that anything involving groups of people and contact sport at non-league (non-elite) level will be allowed to happen again quickly. That's the reality.

"And with most of my players only aged 20 or younger, they are not going to get the vaccine very quickly."

Bury Town manager Ben Chenery celebrates with his players at the final whistle after the 2-1 home wi

Bury Town manager Ben Chenery celebrates with his players at the final whistle after their 2-1 home win over Histon from last season. Picture: PAUL VOLLER - Credit: Archant

BEN CHENERY (BURY TOWN, ISTHMIAN LEAGUE)

"I'd love it for the season to start up again, and I look forward to playing again as soon as it is safe to do so.

"It will probably mean playing a lot of matches in a short space of time, which will be difficult, but players will be able to keep training and staying fit on their own, individually.

"The Isthmian League have said that they will give clubs two weeks notice, when it is decided to restart, which isn't ideal, but it's up to the players to make sure they are fit and ready.

"We've only played four league games so far, and it's quite a feat to remain unbeaten in the league going into the new year!

"These are difficult times, but you need a 'can-do attitude' to get things done.

"I certainly wouldn't rule out the season restarting in some form, down the line. I remain very optimistic. I am that kind of person.

"But we may have to be imaginative to get the season completed, if the current situation goes into February and beyond."

Jamie Godbold.

Lowestoft Town boss Jamie Godbold - Credit: Archant

JAMIE GODBOLD (LOWESTOFT TOWN, SOUTHERN LEAGUE)

"If we do get going again, and that is a big IF, then I don't see how we can finish the season in the current format.

"Things would need to change, but what that would entail is anyone's guess.

"In the past we have made sure that the players have kept ticking over with their fitness, but there will come a point when that will seem a waste of time if there is no end in sight.

"There needs to be a date in mind, something to work towards. Otherwise it is difficult to plan ahead. It's very challenging for players and managers alike.

"I don't think it is looking very good, in terms of starting up again. It might be better for a decision to be made soon, so that we can work towards next season.

"The biggest problem is not knowing, and the situation with the virus suggests that it's not going to get any better for a long time."

The sign as you enter the clubhouse at Long Melford's Stoneylands

The sign that greets supporters at Long Melford FC's Stoneylands - Credit: Archant

JAMIE BRADBURY (LONG MELFORD, THURLOW NUNN LEAGUE)

"In my view they shouldn't have expunged the results from last season. Instead, we should have rolled over into this season and effectively had a full season over the two years.

"And that's not really me  just talking in hindsight. There should have been the foresight to see this coming, that this season would be disrupted again.

"We always knew that this season was going to be tough, and stop-start, so we shouldn't have wiped out last season. There were many winners and losers, but that decision will effectively have wiped out two seasons, rather than just the one.

"We still have 30 games to play, and although it would be do-able to do that over 15 weeks or so, it's asking a lot for the players, and then there's always the chance of more disruption with bad weather and more Covid outbreaks.

"I think we should have rolled over last season's results into this season and ironically we would probably have been nearly done by now."
 

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