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Hampshire FA organises invitational cup as financial concerns remain

New Milton Town’s Elliot Lines shields the ball against Totton & Eling’s Ryan Lomax during a match in October (photo: Les Chase)
New Milton Town’s Elliot Lines shields the ball against Totton & Eling’s Ryan Lomax during a match in October (photo: Les Chase)

WITH non-league football wiped out across the country, the Hampshire FA has announced plans for an invitational cup competition for Hampshire-based Southern League clubs and all Sydenhams Wessex League clubs.

The Hampshire FA Senior Invitational Cup, organised in conjunction with Sydenhams Wessex League, will be optional for all eligible clubs due to concerns such as financial viability and ground and pitch access.

New Milton Town FC manager, Paul Turner, said: “One of the main reasons the league season was curtailed was due to the financial burden clubs would face trying to fulfil their fixtures without supporters.

“If the Hampshire FA Senior Invitational Cup follows similar constrains, then the untenable financial risk still prevails. The lads are desperate to play, and the club is keen to participate, but there needs to be support to mitigate any further financial risk.”

Last month, The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) released details of the Sports Winter Survival Package, a financial aid package worth 300m. Non-league clubs in steps three to six, which includes Sydenhams Wessex Premier and Division One sides, could apply for grants ranging from £7,500 to £10,500.

One of the many local clubs to apply for grants were Ringwood Town FC.

Ringwood manager, Richard Morse, said: “We have entered the competition, and we’re excited about getting back to playing footy again. The only concerns we have is a financial one for the club, as government rules are still not allowing fans in the ground.

“However, it’s my understanding that The FA are speaking with the DCMS to see if they will change this.”

The FA and DCMS have yet to clarify whether fans will be permitted to attend non-elite sport ahead of 17th May. Similarly, there is no specific guidance on travel for non-elite or grassroots football.

Christchurch FC co-manager, Ollie Cherret, said: “We have initially entered, but we have a concern that with no fans, we would be losing money with paying official fees.

“Unless that changes, we don’t really see an advantage, all we would do is lose money, and that’s not attractive.

“We are all waiting to see if any clarity arrives from The FA. It seems crazy you can watch a match in a local park, but you can’t come to a ground with Covid-protocols in place and stewards ensuring social distancing.”

Phase 1 of the competition, which is anticipated to start the week after Easter, will see geographically-based groups compete in qualifying to the knockout stages.

While some grounds might become unavailable during the competition due to leasing issues and other concerns, flexibility will be shown to allow games to be played in a location other than a club’s home ground.

Issues with ground availability would apply to Bashley FC, who lease their pitch while sharing the car park with Bashley Rydal Cricket Club, who take control during the cricket season. Bashley will not be entering the competition.

A Hampshire FA statement read: “We are pleased to be working on the concept of a Hampshire FA Senior Invitational Cup with the Sydenhams Wessex League for senior clubs in Hampshire at Steps 3-6, for those that would like to participate.

“We are currently consulting with clubs to see if there is interest.

“We also have the support of the Southern League for this competition and for their Hampshire-based clubs to enter if they wish to do so, we are also talking with

the Combined Counties League.”

The Combined Counties Football League is a regional men’s football league with three Hampshire-based sides: Cove FC, Eversley & California FC and Fleet Spurs FC.

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