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How the only real option for Non-League football is to void the season


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Clearly there are more important things going on in the world at the moment, but I sort of feel the talk about how the football divisions are going to be settled is an escapism from what is going on, which is pretty much what sport is anyway. I have already been pretty vocal on Twitter on how I think things should be sorted, but I think writing a post on here is worthwhile as I can go into more detail.

First of all the ideal situation would be for the season to be finished. The problem here though is no one knows when that will be possible. The Premier League can get away to a certain extent with playing behind closed doors as the TV money is way more than anything they get through the turnstiles. Non-League sides obviously could play behind closed doors, especially the smaller ones who don't get much of a crowd. However that crowd provide vital money and teams don't have much of an income without people being there. It is hard to see how the public are going to be allowed to go to watch sport anytime soon given the situation. I think it will be months before we would be able to finish the season with a crowd. For Non-League sides that brings about all sort of issues with paying players as they stop getting paid on the last day of the season in April. Unless something happens that makes it complicated for teams and players. Also what has to be factored in is we are basically having a close season at the moment. Clubs aren't going to be to speed to start straight away. They are going to need a training time and if possible friendlies.

One interesting point the Lewes chairman made in Sunday's Non-League Paper is that if the season was played to a conclusion you would get teams with nothing to play for playing a youth team so they didn't have to spend much or even anything on players. I can certainly see that happening in the circumstances. He also mentions about a possible further outbreak of COVID-19. It is hardly going to go away completely and all it would take is for someone connected with one club to cause a further delay to things. I know that 60 odd clubs have signed a letter asking for the FA to delay the decision, but I am not sure that helps things massively. Quite a few clubs also want a decision asap and that is what the FA has done.

Now onto the main point as to how the season should be settled. South Shields, Jersey Bulls and Vauxhall Motors are especially annoyed by the FA's decision because they have either already won promotion or look set to win the league. South Shields are 12 points clear with 9 games to play although FCUM in 2nd do have a game in hand, but clearly it would be a surprise if South Shields didn't go onto win the title. They have spent plenty of money to get themselves up the pyramid so they obviously feel some of that has been wasted if the season is made void. The problem is though you have to look at all divisions and other leagues are much tighter.

Let's look at the National League North were York are 2 points clear of Kings Lynn. Kings Lynn though have two games in hand. On points per game (PPG) Kings Lynn would win the title. However they have only picked up 4 points in their last 6 games and have lost 4 of them. Based on that you would hardly be confident they would win those two games in hand or even go on to win the title. York have picked up 10 points in their last 6 games. Some might say you could promote them both, but then the other possible play-off teams are going to be really annoyed if you just promote the team who finished 2nd and don't forget in the 3 National League's the play-offs go down to 7th place.

Barrow are 4 points clear in the National League and manger Ian Evatt is adamant they will win the title if able to play out the season, but of course he is going to say that. Harrogate are 2nd and both teams have 9 games left. Also on Wednesday they were due to play each other at Harrogate. Win that and the gap is down to 1. Given they have got 5 more points than Barrow in their last 10 games it is certainly possible that Harrogate could catch them and win the title. Reverse the situation and you can bet that Evatt would not be so desperate for the season to be decided by PPG. You also couldn't rule out Notts County who are finishing strongly after a not surprising slow start. Why should County be punished for having a slow start to the season when they still have 8 games to play and have got themselves into a strong position. Teams come in and out of form and there is still plenty of time for things to change.

Tamworth are one of the clubs who have signed the letter and they would have won their league on PPG, but their league is really tight and having backed them for the title I hoped they would win the league, Royston would have at the very least pushed them all the way.

I have seen it suggested that PPG would at least be fair to those who have had a good season and deserve promotion, but until you have won the title nothing is certain and even then you have to consider the whole league. Yes there will be teams at the bottom who would have gone down and get another season to try and stay up if the league is voided, but on the other hand there are plenty of clubs who were looking capable of getting themselves out of the relegation zone. I'm going to use my own club Gloucester as an example here. This time last season we would have gone down under PPG as we went on a long run without a win mid season. A new manager came in during January and in the end we were safe before the last game of the season, which was a minor miracle. There will be other clubs in that sort of situation so how can you relegate sides and not give them the chance to get out. I keep seeing the table doesn't lie, but that is rubbish given how much of the season is left and the fact teams have played a different amount of games.

That last point brings me onto Morpeth in the Northern Premier League. They have 15 games still to play having played just 27 games so far. They have 6 games in hand over South Shields and if they did happen to win them all they would end up just 3 points behind them. Chances are given they had so many games to fit in they wouldn't have won them all, but that also means if we were to carry on with the season how on earth would they be able to fit 15 games in to say a month to finish the season as quickly as possible.That would mean them playing a game every other day which is hardly a good look for the league and other teams are also going to suffer as a consequence of Morpeth's games having to be squeezed in. Also if you used PPG they would automatically go into the play-off places, but as Warrington manager Paul Carden said in the Non-League paper PPG doesn't take injury, suspension, travel and fatigue into account.

Some teams will have easier run ins than others. If for example you have yet to play Redditch who have only 12 points in the Southern League Premier Central, yet others have played them twice then you will be annoyed that you have more than likely missed out on 3 points. 

If you do use PPG then what do you do with the play-offs? As I mention above some say promote the 2nd team, but then you annoy a lot of other clubs who were expecting a play-off berth and just because you finish 2nd that doesn't mean you win the play-offs. I guess you could try and squeeze in the play-offs at some stage, but again it takes up vital time before a new season can start.

The Northern League chairman was quoted in the NLP as to why they choose to void the season and he mentioned the Isthmian League chairman had pointed out that they still had 25% of the season still to play. That is a huge amount of games and I know that clubs want to look after their own interests, but you have to look at the bigger picture and realise that voiding the season is the only fair way of dealing with the issue. There are too many unknowns to finish the season in any other way in my opinion. South Shields are saying they will get the lawyers in which quite frankly is ridiculous given what is going on in the world right now. Also if you settled the season on PPG you would see way more clubs up in arms about the decision. As some managers and clubs have said it is best to just get on with the decision that has been made and focus the energy on making sure all the clubs survive because plenty will be struggling to do so and regardless of what happens with the 2019/20 season I suspect the Non-League landscape will look very different for the whenever the next season starts.

The National League are set to meet on Tuesday and I guess we will find out in due course what they plan to do. Apparently they were taken off the original FA ruling at the 11th hour as they want to see the season out. I can't see the FA changing their mind about the voiding of Steps 3-6 regardless of the letter as it would be very unusual should them to do so and ultimately they have made the only real decision they could. 

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Interesting views and some very valid points there, @Darran. The obvious point to make is that there is non way of satisfying everyone. I have the feeling that some sort of conclusion to this season should happen. I am involved in a team in the amateur Welsh leagues and we'll be thoroughly disappointed if all our competitions are declared void. I know the logistics are very tricky but I feel that this season should be finished in some way or another.

You quite rightly mention the point about coronavirus not going anywhere. What happens if this season is declared void and then we do another half-season next year only for coronavirus to come back into our lives and we're in the same situation next season? This is why FIFA and UEFA need to take more of a lead on things. It's a knock-on effect. The Premier League and Football League are feeling pressured to get this season done before the next one is due to start in order to align with European competitions. If FIFA and UEFA just basically say that this season's European competitions have until the start of June to restart (even behind closed doors) otherwise next season will see a shortened version of the competitions (straight knockout like the old days would be one solution) then it would allow domestic leagues to let their seasons continue into next season's calendar.

I'm very much all for the integrity of football to be maintained as much as possible. I worry that if this season is just declared null and void then it would be a huge mark on the game. Especially for the likes of Liverpool, Leeds, and South Shields etc who have performed so well. It would be completely unacceptable to say "sorry, but it doesn't count!". I would rather see the season ended with teams in their current positions than the season declared void. Yes, teams could argue that they might have done better in the games left but if it's a choice of the two outcomes I feel finishing a season with some regard for performance levels is far more acceptable than just wiping the slate clean, especially when there's a risk we could just be wiping the slate clean again this time next year.

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The problem is though there is no thought to how performances will be for the final few games of the season so you reward performances that have already happened which isn’t fair on what teams would have done. When you have a team who has 15 games left that is huge. Teams entered the season with the rules being based on how teams did over a full season not part of a season. Obviously more specific rules will be put in place on the future but legally I think the leagues would be on very shaky ground if they used ppg. My guess is the premier league will finish somehow because of the tv money

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17 minutes ago, Darran said:

The problem is though there is no thought to how performances will be for the final few games of the season so you reward performances that have already happened which isn’t fair on what teams would have done. When you have a team who has 15 games left that is huge. Teams entered the season with the rules being based on how teams did over a full season not part of a season. Obviously more specific rules will be put in place on the future but legally I think the leagues would be on very shaky ground if they used ppg. My guess is the premier league will finish somehow because of the tv money

Yeah, I see what you're saying and agree it's not ideal but whatever scenario is chosen it won't be ideal. I just think there has to be some sort of closure on this campaign and acknowledgement of what teams have done. I appreciate it's not straight forward, especially further down the ladder. As you rightly reference in the original post. I just think it'd really be dangerous to just wipe the slate clean. Especially when it could happen again next year or the year after or for however long this virus will keep disrupting our lives. This is why I'm so adamant that FIFA and UEFA need to lead the way and leave the season calendar open-ended until this season is finished then deal with European competitions after that's done. Finish this season however long it takes.

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Let’s say no football can take place until 2021. How can that possibly be classed as the same season? That is a long time and teams will show very different form. You void now then teams can concentrate on getting teams ready for the next season. Also as I mention in the original piece if you restart what happens if clubs then get forced into lockdown because of the virus? You run the risk of a further delay. Also how long do you make the resumption? As I state Morpeth have 15 games to play. How long do you give them to play them? 

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Great article. Loads of examples of why PPG  just doesn’t work to resolve this season. 

Also take Longridge Town, who are the best footballing side I have seen in the NWCFL Prem this season.
 

They have invested to try and secure one of the top 3 promotion places on offer just for this season. They also had an excellent run in the FA Vase which has left them with almost a third of their league fixtures still to play! If promotion was decided on PPG they would miss out by just 0.06 of a point. That is just as unfair as any of the other examples that are being quoted by the PPG advocates. 

How would Longridge react if the FA simply invented a brand new rule that deprived them of this one-off chance of promotion with a top 3 finish?

The unfortunate truth is that it is a 38 game league season which can’t be completed. It’s that simple really. 

And I say that even though I am completely gutted that I am not going to be watching my lad play in a cup semi-final for Runcorn Town after working his nuts off to win his place back after recovering from injury. 

Edited by GrantRox
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On 4/3/2020 at 12:20 PM, GrantRox said:

Great article. Loads of examples of why PPG  just doesn’t work to resolve this season. 

Also take Longridge Town, who are the best footballing side I have seen in the NWCFL Prem this season.
 

They have invested to try and secure one of the top 3 promotion places on offer just for this season. They also had an excellent run in the FA Vase which has left them with almost a third of their league fixtures still to play! If promotion was decided on PPG they would miss out by just 0.06 of a point. That is just as unfair as any of the other examples that are being quoted by the PPG advocates. 

How would Longridge react if the FA simply invented a brand new rule that deprived them of this one-off chance of promotion with a top 3 finish?

The unfortunate truth is that it is a 38 game league season which can’t be completed. It’s that simple really. 

And I say that even though I am completely gutted that I am not going to be watching my lad play in a cup semi-final for Runcorn Town after working his nuts off to win his place back after recovering from injury. 

Great example that Grant and I’m sure there are other examples throughout the leagues. The problem is those who have an agenda where ppg works for them are desperate to get it changed. I understand their frustrations but there was way too much of the season left to have known what would have happened.

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