National League clubs have voted in favour of cancelling all remaining fixtures.
The fifth and sixth levels of English football were suspended last month and members have now ratified the decision to end the season permanently. The news comes after all divisions below National League level had their seasons expunged on 26 March.
90% of clubs voted on the resolution, with a clear majority of sides voicing their preference that the campaign be cancelled.
“At a time when the entire country is wrestling with the devastating impact of Covid-19, the cancellation of the remaining normal season matches brings a degree of certainty to our Clubs coping with the business implications of the virus,”
“In consideration of the very serious and unprecedented national public health emergency caused by the coronavirus, National League, National League North and National League South football activities have been suspended since 16 March.
“The options concerning the sporting outcomes of the 2019/20 season remain under careful and timely consideration, and further updates will be given in due course.”
So, what does this actually mean and has the correct decision been made?
One of the principal ramifications of this decision is the lively debate that is now bound to erupt over how promotion and relegation should be decided. In the National League, Ian Evatt’s Barrow have been a revelation this season, bringing a swaggering, tiki-tika inspired football to Cumbria.
They are also currently four points clear at the top of the table and were strong favourites to win automatic promotion back to the Football League for the first time since the 1970s.
This decision may also set a precedent for higher divisions to be permanently halted. Though the Premier League is unlikely to be cancelled for financial reasons, the rest of English football could potentially follow the National League’s lead.
There seems to be three ways of solving these arguments – finalising league positions as they are, using a points per game system or expunging all results.
Any one of these options will cause all manner of disagreements. In the North, title chasing York City and Kings Lynn Town had wildly different run-ins to come – a phenomenon that is replicated across all three divisions. This makes the first two options extremely contentious, as teams are not being judged on a level playing field.
Because of these issues, it is perhaps best to expunge the season – but as the decision to do this to lower divisions has shown, this is also not a perfect solution.
The FA have attracted massive criticism for their uneven handling of the situation. For example, they have refused to allow disciplinary fines to be waverred despite all other aspects of the season being expunged.
Several key figures in non-league were so outraged by the FA’s decision to render the season null and void, they walked out on their clubs due to disillusionment. Some teams are even preparing a legal challenge to the decision.
See, not an easy one is it?
Pros of the Decision
As mentioned in the statement, the main advantage of the decision is the financial certainty that it gives non-league teams and players.
Many clubs are in dire straits financially and now they know they do not have to fulfil their remaining fixtures, operations can be streamlined.
Hopefully, this will prevent more clubs going the way of Rhyl, who announced they were preparing for liquidation after 141 years of existence.
Cons of the Decision
From a player, fan, manager or chairman’s perspective it must be disheartening to see months of work and thousands of pounds of investment amount to nothing.
There’s also doubts as to why the National League is prioritising the start of next season when there’s still fixtures to complete and no concrete return date.
If the season is expunged as well, it gives a free pass to Stevenage to remain in the Football League when it could be argued that Barrow perhaps, maybe, possibly deserve it more?
Oh yeah, and the non-league pyramid was supposed to undergo a major restructuring at the end of the season. That’s just not happening is it?