Non-league clubs angry with FA decision to end seasons with immediate effect

Sports Desk (03 April, 2020)

Fisher said they understood the tough position authorities are in - as Dulwich Hamlet thank the effort that went into first women's season

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John Kelly

Fisher have said they “respect the decision” the football authorities have taken to end their league – but a number of non-league clubs have written to the FA to express their “profound concern”.

The FA last week took the decision to immediately void the leagues from Steps 3-7 of the football pyramid and expunge all results.

That meant and end to their campaigns for Fisher, Peckhams Town and Rye, and for women’s sides Millwall Lionesses and Dulwich Hamlet.

It is a decision that has been questioned by Millwall manager Gary Rowett, and by Gary Neville, the former Manchester United and England defender who is part-owner of Salford, a club that came up through those steps in the English football pyramid and are currently in the National League.

Earlier this week, the National League announced it was suspending their leagues “indefinitely”, but they are in discussions with authorities and legal experts to try to find a way to conclude the campaigns. That leaves Dulwich Hamlet’s men’s side, in National League South, still in limbo.

More than 60 clubs have written to the governing body of football in England to express their dissatisfaction at how quickly the decision was made and urged them to reconsider.

Fisher told the News this week they hadn’t been approaches about the letter. But they commented: “We appreciate the extremely difficult position in which the FA and league found itself. We respect the decision the league has reached and look forward to starting the new season when that is possible.

“In the meantime, football is very obviously of secondary importance to the health and wellbeing of the public, and Fisher FC hopes that its players, staff, supporters and all in the wider Bermondsey and Rotherhithe communities are staying safe and well in these difficult times.”

Dulwich Hamlet Women embarked on their first season

On Monday, the Non-League Paper published a letter sent to the FA by clubs from across the Step 3-7 system, including from women’s leagues, signed by official club representatives.

“We are writing to express our profound concern and displeasure regarding the decision to null and void entirely the 2019-20 playing season from steps three to six of the non-league, as well as tiers three to seven of the women’s non-league,” the letter said.

“Our concern is grounded primarily in the needless and inexplicable haste exercised in reaching the decision, coupled with a total lack of substantive dialogue or consultation with affected clubs. The decision also disregards the millions of pounds invested and countless hours expended collectively by clubs, and so has critical financial implications.

“In writing this joint letter, we recognise that the decision to expunge results for the 2019-20 season still pends official ratification from the FA Council. However, we believe it is unacceptable that such a decision has been handed down to us in this manner. We urgently seek constructive dialogue with the FA with the aim to have the decision re-considered.

“Before continuing, it is crucial that we extend our appreciation to all governing bodies, leagues and respective chairpersons for their continued hard work at a time of such adversity. We are markedly conscious of the seriousness of the public health situation, which undoubtedly takes precedence over football.

“Consequently, all clubs agree with the decision that the current playing season should be indefinitely discontinued until it is safe to resume; it would be both irresponsible and reckless to consider resuming playing football at this time. We would like to take the opportunity to echo government advice for everyone to stay home to protect the NHS, and thus save lives.”

The signatories dispute that, according to the FA, there was “consensus” among clubs from Steps 3-6 6o void the season. The letter states: “No such consensus was ever reached amongst the NLS (National League System) Steps 3-6 – some leagues were barely consulted.

“Many clubs were never given an opportunity to vote, only to suggest possible conclusions to league officials. There appears to have been little-to-no attempt to consult deeply and widely and so formulate a clearer idea of what any ‘consensus’ amongst clubs might be.”

The letter raised the confusion over relegation and promotion. The FA said there will be no promotion from Step 3 (including the Isthmian League Premier Division) to Step 2 (National Leagues North and South). Dulwich Hamlet were promoted from Step 3 to Step 2 in 2018.

Fisher went six games without defeat in October. Photo: Dave Anderson

The clubs also highlighted financial concerns.

The letter continued: “Voiding the season has immense financial implications on clubs, their sponsors and local communities. Why did the FA, in reaching its decision, not discuss the huge financial impact during their “consultation” process? Are clubs expected to foot the bill for playing a season of “friendlies”?

“Whilst we are deeply dissatisfied with the manner in which the decision has been reached and delivered, it is imperative to consider the ramifications of the decision itself on clubs, from a footballing, financial and community perspective.

“Most clubs in Steps 3-6 have now completed 70-80 per cent of their league fixtures, and it is incomprehensible that these results should be delegitimised and expunged on the basis that the final quarter of the season cannot be fulfilled in the future. Simply put, there is no valid basis to expunge an entire season, especially at this stage.

“Our demand for the FA to reconsider its decision is also about sending a message to the fans of our clubs, who have spent hard-earned money to follow their teams up and down the country, letting them know their support was not in vain. We know it is well within the powers of the FA to ensure that this is the case.

“The consensus that we have reached is to take a similar stance to what the Premier League aims to do – wait several weeks to see how the public health situation unfolds before deciding next steps. This is sensible in circumstances where it is by no means certain that we will even be able to start next season in a timely fashion.

“A crisis like this is a watershed moment for the FA and the relationship it chooses to have with non-league and grassroots football. It is imperative to solve this issue sensibly and democratically over the coming weeks, with transparent, constructive and fair dialogue with respective leagues and clubs.”

Meanwhile, Dulwich Hamlet acknowledged the work that went into the inaugural season for their women’s side.

The club said: “We would like to thank everyone involved in the team for their magnificent effort on and off the pitch, in what has been a challenging season for the club. They have made a lot of people very proud and we look forward to their return next season.”

Main image: Neil McHugh 

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