With debate increasing by the day on whether the English Premier League and English Football League should return or not, people are forgetting what has happened to Non-League campaigns up and down the country, lower down the footballing pyramid.
For those who don’t know, they have been disregarded, thrown away, cancelled and VOIDED.
Whether this is the right or wrong decision has been debated in almost every town in England, albeit over social media. Why was it an easy decision for the FA to void every league under the National League, yet they are hanging on to the professional seasons?
Easy answer: Money.
Is this right? Of course not.
Take Jersey Bulls FC or Vauxhall Motors FC as the obvious examples. They have both secured promotion and were games away from securing title wins. The Channel Islanders had won ALL 27 game of their debut season, a new Combined Counties Record, well it was until the FA decided that all of the games were all in vain.
So many others have missed out too; Leicester Road were seemingly cruising to promotion, being 25 points inside the Midland 1 promotion places before the call. Stockton Town gained a wealthy position too, being 23 points inside the promotion places in the Northern 1 league. Others who seemed destined to be promoted included Risborough Rangers, Littlehampton Town, Lower Breck and Bugbrooke St Michaels, who were all at least 20 points clear at the top of their respective leagues. Many other sides were above 10 points clear, which, at this stage of the season would more than likely lead to promotion.
I spoke with well-respected Non-League reporter Ollie Bayliss about the subject and he told me ‘The null & void decision is very hard on clubs like Jersey Bulls and Vauxhall Motors who’d already secured promotion. If those clubs had managed that achievement within the football league I don’t think there’s any way their season would have been made null & void.’
Ollie went on to say ‘It does no one any favours keeping clubs like that down for another season – their colleagues in their league don’t want to have to play them again next season.’
All the clubs I have mentioned will feel disappointed, downbeat, and effectively robbed by the FA. Whilst they will understand that there are bigger issues in the world right now, I am sure that they would have wanted all of their hard work and effort, both from the players and club members, to be rewarded rather than dismissed without a second thought.
Football wise, as Ollie mentioned, why would Combined Counties League Division One sides want to play Jersey Bulls again next season? It would more than likely be the same outcome, meaning one less promotion place. Who would want that? Same goes for Vauxhall Motors, who would more than likely repeat their success this season, possibly being even more relentless because they are determined to get the promotion they deserve. If you were the FA or any club, you would allow promotion, especially to these two sides.
Financially it is a mammoth smack in the face for ALL non-league clubs. Since the announcement, 10 clubs have already withdrawn from their respective leagues in steps 3-7. This is just the start of what is set to be a catastrophic aftermath of a damaging decision by the FA.
Ollie Bayliss said ‘During this period we will sadly see some clubs fold. The financial impact of this crisis will take its toll on many others who will struggle financially. It will take a while before we see full competitive leagues again.’
In the main, clubs in Non-League receive most their income through gate money. With the season ending, that is gone, and clubs will have to look for other ways to raise money to keep the club running and this will undoubtedly be a struggle.
That tells you just how bad this could get financially for clubs up and down the country. Some simply will fold. People will lose their local football clubs. We won’t see Non-League like we know and love for a long time to come.
Ollie told me ‘Clubs will lose out on thousands of pounds from this crisis. Some clubs have asked for relegation in order to balance their budgets for next season – it remains to be seen whether the FA will grant this request.’
It is a sad situation. Beyond football, Non-League is a family. From the players who form brotherly bonds, to the terraces for your weekly catch up with someone you wouldn’t usually chat to. It brings so many people together. It is all about community, rather than money. Going to Non-League games, for many, feels so much more special and personal compared to being one in 20,000 + people in a Football League and Premier League stadium.
Ollie added ‘I think we’ll see a shorten adaptation for next season, perhaps a more regionalised ‘mini league’ with playoffs. Hopefully in time, football will return to the game we know and love, but that might take several years.’
All in all, whilst it was the right decision to end the season, the way it was ended was wrong. In my opinion, it should have been through a Points Per Game system, which is the fairest way to end any league given the certain circumstances. Nonetheless, no matter what decision was to be made, Non-League won’t be the same for a very, very long time, and we will lose some clubs along the way. It is a sad situation, one which the FA didn’t think about when they made the rash decision that they did.