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Local clubs debate future of stalled football season

A happier time when football could be played in front of crowds
A happier time when football could be played in front of crowds

FOOTBALL clubs across the New Forest and Christchurch have had their say in discussions with the FA which could see the 2020/21 season scrapped.

The Football Association last season abandoned non-elite football, which includes Sydenhams Wessex Premier and Sydenhams Wessex Division One. This season fixtures were paused in November and then suspended on 4th January, following the third lockdown in an attempt to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

Now a second lost season is expected.

The FA’s Alliance and Leagues Committees sent surveys to nearly 900 non-league football clubs. The survey quizzed football bosses for their views on voiding the season, deciding the leagues on a points-per-game ratio, or pausing the campaigns now and restarting in August to finish the 2020/21 season while delaying the start of the 2021/22 campaign.

Brockenhurst manager Patrick McManus said: “It’s a frustrating time because we would all like to be playing football and be socialising at the football club, but we’re all in unchartered territory with regards to variant strains of Covid-19 and terrible numbers in relation to deaths across the nation.

“We have limped from one lockdown to another since the start of the season, with spectators out and then in, clubhouses closed, open, then closed again – to date it has been incredibly frustrating. I feel that a null and void decision by the FA is inevitable as deciding an outcome on less than 30% fixtures played – in most cases – isn’t practical or fair.

“Expunging results is also something I don’t think will happen either – however much some clubs may want it. I think we’ll be back for a 2021/22 season at the tail end of a nationwide vaccination program and, hopefully, with a clear plan from the FA for an early finish if required again.”

Responses were made by 99.1% of clubs in steps three and four of the football pyramid and 95.8% of clubs at steps five and six, including Sydenhams Wessex Premier and Sydenhams Wessex Division One.

Ringwood Town manager Richard Morse said: “Myself and the club proposed that if the season can restart on the 1st March, we were in favour of playing as many games as we could up until 31st May and then deciding it on a PPG average if there were games still outstanding.

“If the restrictions are still in place in April, then we would suggest null and voiding the season unless they can extend the season into June or July – which to me makes perfect sense.

“It is important that this season is finished before they start another.”

Last season, the governing body controversially declared the season void without any consultation with leagues or clubs.

New Milton Town manager Paul Turner said: “I think we will need to accept the 2020/21 season is over, but we’re ever hopeful we can restart as soon as it’s safe – even if we were only able to play friendlies, or perhaps a round-robin series of fixtures against local teams with what little time the season has left to offer us.

“Whether the season is declared null and void, curtailed or rolled over to next season, it is a decision the authorities are well qualified to make, and we will respect their decision.

“The opinion of myself, the club or other clubs within the league is relatively irrelevant. Unfortunately, it can be spoiled with conflicts of interest and prejudice towards what is good for the individual.

“The FA have the full picture throughout the entire value chain and are very well positioned to determine what is right for all levels of the football pyramid with consideration of how all steps are interlinked. Let’s leave it to the experts.”

The FA statement read: “The FA’s Alliance and Leagues Committees now have a large amount of data and information to consider before determining a proposed way forward.

Ultimately any proposal made by the committees will be put to FA Council for consideration. The FA Council will then make any final decision on a way forward.

“The Alliance and Leagues Committees recognise the desire for clubs to be updated whilst these issues are being carefully considered. Therefore, both committees commit to providing updates to leagues and clubs as the process progresses.

“Further information will follow in due course.”

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