Wednesday 15 April 2020

Was The FA Too Hasty To ‘Null and Void’ Non-League Over COVID-19?

With the ongoing situation with the COVID-19 virus growing increasingly severe by each passing day (virtually placing people on lockdown in their own homes), the Football Association have taken the decision to nulland void the 2019-20 season for all non-league teams in steps 3 and below, as well as the women’s leagues below The Championship.

Whilst there’s obviously more than football to worry about with this emergency, with nothing else to do but stay inside for most people, it’s not really a surprise there’s been much speculation on the status of the 2019-20 season.

It’s the haste in which the FA have taken the decision to cancel the non-league season that has caught many by surprise – as of yet, there is no firm idea of what will happen with club football at the top levels of the game (the consensus is that the Premier League and The Football League will resume in the summer), which makes the decision to cancel the non-league football season now all the more perplexing.

Why Has The Non-League Season Been Cancelled?


It’s important to acknowledge what a difficult decision the FA faced – there are thousands of clubs that make up the leagues below step 2 of the non-league pyramid and wiping all those results from the records must have been a result of a great amount of deliberation.

But let’s not kid ourselves here; money is the biggest driver in most decisions in football and it’s no coincidence that the part-time leagues were the first to fall. It’s not just the television deals and sponsorships that the professional club garner that make deciding what to do with their seasons more difficult – but also for the fact they’re able to employ vast legal teams to challenge any decision they may find unfavourable.

Also, cancelling the season now provides leagues with the chance to start afresh next season – no having to reschedule fixtures and no having to fit in 2-3 games a week to squeeze everything in. Even if football could resume in the next few months, it’s unlikely that crowds would be allowed back – just like how television provides lifeblood to the Premier League, crowds are the income provider for the non-league game.

Solid enough reasons you might think, so why’s the cancelling been seen as problematic?

The Problem With Cancelling The Football Season


The biggest issue I have with what the FA have done, is that the decision seems to have been made too quickly – the clubs weren’t even consulted and were taken by surprise as much as everyone else was. If you’re making a decision that will affect the status of people, surely you would garner a majority view before you proceed?

The problem with cancelling football at this moment is that we’re in the backend of the season – it would have been easier to cancel it a few weeks or months in, but many clubs only have 10 matches left. A number of them have either already won promotion, are miles clear at the top, locked in promotion battles – or are completely marooned at the bottom of their leagues (somehow, I don’t think they’ll mind the season being cancelled!)

It has to be said – nulling and voiding makes a mockery of their efforts throughout the season; all those games and goals will be wiped off the records. For many clubs, this season could conceivably be the difference in them grabbing the opportunity to progress, building themselves a long-term future – or not. Many have already spent what little money they have to upgrade their facilities to fill the grading requirements of the league above – wiping the records for this season makes it more difficult for them to win promotion next season, leaving them with massive bills to pay (with less income that they would have got at the level above, had they won promotion).

Although I think that ending the season may prove to be the right decision for non-league (we’ve no idea when football may resume at all levels), nulling and voiding was not the right way to go about it. Ending the season as it was or using a points-per-game model is much better than completely wiping the records, surely? I’m of the opinion in their haste to be seen to be doing something, the FA panicked.

The Reaction To The FA Cancelling Non-League


As you might imagine, quite a lot of clubs aren’t best pleased with the decision. South Shields, who are leading the Northern Premier League Premier Division by 12 points, are heading a legal challenge on behalf of clubs who want to challenge the nulling and voiding. The open letter, signed by representatives of 66 clubs, have accused the FA of [taking the decision in] ‘needless and inexplicable haste’, [with] ‘a total lack of substantive dialogue or consultation with affected clubs’ and [having] ‘no consensus’ with the leagues.

I wish them all the best, although sadly, I don’t hold out much hope – it isn’t a coincidence that the status of professional football (which includes many clubs in the National Leagues) is still up in the air. As mentioned, these clubs and leagues have the resources to make more of a challenge if they deem they’re being handed a raw deal. This doesn’t make it right; I think all levels of football should be treated the same because otherwise, what’s the point in us having a competitive pyramid if everyone can't move within it? 

What’s your opinion on the non-league season being cancelled? Was it the right decision? Should the FA have waited or ended the leagues in another way? Leave your comment below or tweet me @pints_pies

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