Football in Berkshire
Opinion

‘Clubs can at least now plan for next season’ – Mark Rozzier

The Woodley United general manager offers his thoughts on the cancellation of the non-league season

‘Clubs can at least now plan for next season’ – Mark Rozzier

Mark Rozzier writes for Football in Berkshire about the null and void decision reached by the FA around non-league football. Mark is General Manager at Woodley United FC, President of the Thames Valley Premier League, Registration Secretary and BBFA Councillor for the Southern Region Women’s Football League.

Now that the dust is settling on The FA’s announcement of 26th March 2020 that the 2019/20 season will now be brought to an end and all results will be expunged it should be noted that before releasing the statement The FA had held a conference call with

  • Step 5 / 6 leagues on Tuesday 24th March 2020
  • Women’s Football Conference on Wednesday 25th March 2020

In addition Tuesday 24th March 2020 saw an announcement from The Southern, Isthmian and Northern Premier Leagues that they had implemented a process to terminate the season. 

As such leagues had been consulted and their views considered as part of the decision making process.  Therefore, it is unfair to blame The FA for this decision who can be seen as the messenger.

Read more: The FA statement on a null and void season in full

In making the decision certainty has been brought to clubs who can now plan for next season and avoided further delay when the reality is that had any decision been further deferred, would there have been any different outcome to that announced yesterday?

On reflection is there really any other decision to make?  There is talk of resuming season 2019/20 when football is able to return, but this creates its own challenges which include:

  • When will the season start? 
  • Will clubs want a “pre-restart season” period of time to train and play friendlies before resuming matches in earnest?
  • When will the season end and how long is the resumed season?  There were six weeks from 16th March 2020 when The FA suspended football to 25th April 2020 (the last Saturday of The NLS season).  Some clubs had three games a week in this period.  An eight week resumed season for league games seems will be very tight allowing for grounds being available and the remaining fixtures enabling for teams to be able to play twice and a week.  In addition cup ties/cup finals and play-off games will need to be scheduled. 
  • Time allowed for The FA to allocate teams via the promotion pool, formulate divisions for 2020/21, generating fixtures for the new season and the registering of players for the new season.
Mark Rozzier. Photo: Neil Graham / ngsportsphotography.com

Assuming all of the above can be achieved in a four month time scale effective from 1st June 2020 for a “pre-restart season” to the opening day of the 2020/21 season the new season will start sometime in October 2020.  This then presents a new set of challenges as follows:

  • It is common for Step 5 / 6 teams to start their league seasons on the first Saturday of August, ie 1st August 2020.  Therefore, league games otherwise scheduled from this date will need to be squeezed into a reduce length of time for 2020/21 season.  We have seen what the weather has done this winter in terms of postponements.  What if this is repeated next winter?
  • The FA commences the FA Cup, FA Vase and FA Women’s cup competitions in August and September.  A delayed start to the NLS / Women’s pyramid will impact the rounds of these competitions.
  • Seasons overlapping with NLS / Women’s pyramid continuing 2019/20 at the same time as grassroots and youth leagues are operating season 2020/21.  This can be a challenge for clubs in keeping track of player discipline/suspensions and ensuring they are applied to the correct season where a first team is playing in 2019/20 and the Reserves in a 2020/21 season league!

As such bringing the season to and end appears the logical decision no matter how unpopular this is.

With regard to what to do with 2019/20 season it seems there were a number of options:

  • The league positions at 16th March 2020 are the final positions.  Clearly unfair given teams will have played a differing amount of teams in a division.
  • Create a league table based on teams having played each other once.  But what if two teams had not yet played on anther as in the case of Woodley United and Milton United or if they had played each other twice, which result is used?
  • Declare all the unplayed games as goalless draws and award a point per team per game.  Is this fair for teams pushing for promotion who may be confident of winning games as opposed to drawing them while teams fighting relegation will probably welcome a point per game?
  • Use points per game but this could be skewed by teams having played an unequal amount of games and having differing degrees of difficulty in the season run-in eg two teams vying for the title may see one with games against other promotion-chasing teams and another against bottom half of the table teams.
  • Void the season.  Makes the season feel “was it worth it?” but given that very few champions, promotion, relegation or playoff positions had been finalised, on analysis this option has merit and it is understandable why this option was decided upon.

For me, I would not use the word “expunge” which means to get rid of something completely.  Season 2019/20 has a lot of stories and memories which saw many official games played with club records broken in terms of appearances, leading goal scorers etc.  These mean something to the club and players concerned and should be celebrated and remembered.  As such it is better to end the season and leave league tables incomplete.  I’m sure we will all remember why this happened!

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