Amid the coronavirus chaos, football has stuck its head above the parapet to make the first of what are likely to be many tough decisions.
The Football Association has confirmed that all non-league football seasons will end immediately, and that all of the results until this point have been expunged – meaning there will be no promotion or relegation for the 2019/20 campaign. It means that the likes of Vauxhall Motors and the Jersey Bulls, who had already secured promotion mathematically, will not ascend to the next level up.
An FA statement read:
“Today’s steps take into account the financial impact during this uncertain period, whilst considering the fairest method on how the sporting outcomes for the season will be decided, with the integrity of the leagues in mind.”
Nick Robinson, chairman of the Isthmian League, said that:
“….what we’ve tried to do is come up with a solution that will fit the vast majority of people.”
It has also been confirmed that all women’s football below Super League and Championship level will suffer the same fate.
The National League, which includes the divisions formerly known as the Conference and its North and South subsidiaries, have yet to confirm how they intend to proceed. Cancelling their seasons, and the alternative of playing on through the summer months, have both been discussed with the FA.
The complication in the National League is that the winner and play-off victor would be promoted into League Two – a leap from amateur to professional football – and the clubs involved need the maximum time available to make preparations for a huge shift in status.
There isn’t a consensus across the board, which makes any decision all the more difficult. Ian Evatt, who manages the league leaders Barrow, does not want the season to be ended now, whereas Dagenham & Redbridge chief Steve Thompson believes it is the only way that some clubs will survive as they can begin the process of cutting costs by releasing players.
A Blueprint of What’s to Come for the Premier League?
There will be many football fans left concerned that the decision taken in non-league might later be replicated in the Premier League or Football League.
Assuming that COVID-19 can be contained, the presumption of most is that the top four tiers of English football will return as planned in June.
If all play games every Saturday and Wednesday, the 2019/20 campaign could be completed by mid-July, which would then allow time for play-off matches to be contested at the end of that month.
The likelihood is that the 2020/21 would be delayed until September, which would also enable the FA Cup to be completed during the summer – although drastic alterations, such as playing the quarter finals and semi-final within the same weekend, may be necessary.
In short, there is still ample time for the professional football season to be completed, especially as the FA have lifted the usual June deadline for all loose ends to be tied up and opted for a more open-ended arrangement.
This, of course, all assumes that the coronavirus outbreak can be controlled within the expected timeline. If it cannot, there could be some rather difficult decisions to come.