All our clubs should have received a survey form from the Football Association, the intention being to give clubs in the NLS the opportunity to say how they think the current season should be resolved in the light of the current situation. Once the forms have been returned, they will be analysed and a recommendation sent to the full FA Council for a final decision
The Board is grateful to those clubs who have submitted suggestions of their own. All have merit and those clubs can, of course, submit their suggestions to the FA as part of the survey form that needs to be returned to the FA by 22 January 2021.
There is obviously no “ideal” answer but the Board is of the majority view (including Chairman, Vice-Chairman and Secretary) that it would be far better to resume competitive matches as soon as approval is received to start playing again. If the season is terminated now, it would mean little or no competitive football between mid December 2019 to August 2021. Leagues exist to facilitate the playing of the game and this cannot be achieved by the meek acceptance of two ruined seasons, i.e. virus 2 football nil!
Our suggestion would be, therefore, that league matches should resume as soon as possible and see where it takes us. If we can start at the beginning of March, as suggested by the FA, and play through to the end of May, there would be 13 Saturdays available plus 13 midweeks and two Bank Holidays, a total of 28 opportunities to play football. Apart from the two weeks where there are Bank Holidays on the Monday, clubs and players would only be playing twice in most weeks, and this is not uncommon in the final weeks of the season anyway.
Most of our clubs have played around 12 league matches to date. 12 + 28 = 40! It wouldn’t run quite as smoothly as that but with reasonable weather and no other obstacles most clubs would either finish or get very close to the end of the season. The number of unplayed matches would be at a minimum and PPG could be used for those.
In some other leagues clubs have played fewer matches, and, of course, we have Jersey who have only managed four. Matches for clubs in that situation or similar could have their fixtures prioritised , although still not generally playing more than twice a week and could still get to 30 plus which would allow for the use of PPG for the matches unable to be played which would be reasonable. Jersey themselves have reiterated their willingness to play three matches over a single weekend when necessary.
If this method was used it would mean that promotion and relegation, as envisaged could go ahead as planned except maybe for dispensing play-offs due to the time factor. The FA may even wish to decide that there should be no relegation at the end of the season, which would be more than possible bearing in mind that existing plans allow for a total of 64 clubs to be elevated at the end of the season. Given vacancies already in the system very few clubs would be disadvantaged.
The clear advantages of adopting this method are:
1. Competitive matches recommence as soon as possible.
2. If clubs are playing competitive matches, attendances in general will be higher with correspondingly higher gate and bar revenue.
3. The season would end on 31 May (quite common in past seasons) and would still allow ample time for pitch refurbishment.
4. The threat of stagnation from playing basically the same clubs in league matches for three consecutive seasons would be removed as the proposed re-structure could go ahead, albeit possibly slightly modified.
5. Where NLS feeder leagues (Step 7 clubs) have stopped playing, elevation to Step 6 could be determined by the FA as there are precedents in the past.
6. Even if this plan does not find favour with the FA (even though it would achieve all their stated intentions) it would allow the CCL to declare its champions and treat the season as one as fully concluded as possible.
7. Season 2021-2022 can start as normal and, always subject to no further interruptions, will be a normal season.
8. It helps with sponsorship. Our main sponsors will not have had their “money’s worth” if we close down the season now.
Although it may not be a matter of direct concern for clubs, the situations with the promotion or removal of referees up and down the leagues will be fatally flawed, for as it currently stands referees at Step 5 have not officiated enough matches, or been observed enough for any firm conclusions to be made in relation to who might be worthy of promotion, or in a very few cases, relegation.
As stated, it is for clubs to come to their own individual view as to what they think is the best way to proceed but if you are looking for guidance from the League, we would suggest you consider the above options and advise the FA accordingly. It would be wise also to consult with your players and management before doing so. Don’t forget that the deadline for return is 22 January 2021.
Finally, it is accepted that there are myriad views and that the situation remains far from straightforward. If lockdown measures are not scrapped sufficiently, of course, there may be no option other than to remain in limbo, but whilst there is a chance that we can resume, and it is approved by both the Government and the Football Association, we should take it.