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'A sensible approach' – local clubs react after non-league football season ruled void over Covid for the second year

Christchurch FC's FA Vase tie against US Portsmouth will go ahead (photo: @justinparrypho1)
Christchurch FC's FA Vase tie against US Portsmouth will go ahead (photo: @justinparrypho1)

FOOTBALL clubs across the New Forest and Christchurch have had their seasons cut short for the second successive year as the coronavirus pandemic continues to take its toll.

The decision came after more than three-quarters of teams in steps three to six of the non-league pyramid, which includes Sydenhams Wessex Premier and Division One, voted to end the season if matches could not be played with supporters before 1st April.

The Football Association’s Alliance and Leagues Committees recently sent out surveys to an estimated 884 non-league football clubs. The survey quizzed football bosses for their views on the future of the season.

The results showed more than 76% of all clubs who responded preferred to “curtail the 2020-21 league season if it could not be restarted with limited spectator numbers and hospitality before 1st April 2021”.

New Milton Town FC manager, Paul Turner, said: “Although we could have played without supporters and without the revenue the clubhouse would generate, we would have been running at a loss we can ill afford.

“Curtailing the season, in my opinion, is a sensible approach which will still leave the capacity to play games without further jeopardising the club’s financial stability. Until clubs can operate at full capacity, we need to take every precaution to ensure we remain sustainable.”

Football resumed in September with crowds limited to 300 spectators, but two nationwide lockdowns caused fixture congestion before the season was put on hold in January.

The governing body confirmed that the FA Vase competition would continue, meaning that Christchurch’s fourth-round tie away against US Portsmouth will go ahead.

Christchurch FC co-manager, Ollie Cherrett, said: “I’m not surprised by the news. Last season we had 10 games left to play when it was made null and void, and this season we have only played 11 games. It was an obvious outcome.

“The FA vase will be continuing, so we have one massive competitive game to prepare for. US Portsmouth will be a tough match, so we will have to be at our best to get through. Hopefully all the clubs can come through these difficult times and we can look forward to next season with everyone safe and well.”

The FA also confirmed their planned league restructuring at steps four to six – which could have seen two teams promoted from Sydenhams Premier Division and four teams promoted from Division One – is to be revisited.

Lymington Town were in a fine position to benefit from the dual promotion after winning 10 of their 11 league matches.

Lymington manager, Dave Lewis, said: “The FA’s decision has our complete backing. Only losing once with a quarter of the season played season put us in a good place, but Covid, and ultimately people’s lives, comes first.

“After our club was hit with an outbreak of the virus, you stop thinking about the points and start worrying about people’s lives. Promotion or relegation has yet to be decided, but again, we’d back the decision of the members and The FA, come what may.”

The FA added that extending the leagues beyond May was deemed unviable as 75% of matches at steps five and six were still to be played, while player contracts and potential fixture scheduling issues were also considerations.

A statement from the governing body read: “Taking into account the survey results and the ongoing impact of Covid-19, which continues to adversely affect incomes for clubs due to restrictions on both spectators and hospitality, our alliance and leagues committees have reached a consensus that, subject to the approval of FA Council, the 2020-21 league season for Steps 3-6 of the National League System should be curtailed with immediate effect, with no further league matches taking place this season.”

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