Isthmian League chairman Nick Robinson outlines some of the potential options for completing the 2020-21 season with preference still to declare it null and void
The chairman of the Pitching In Isthmian League says "all options remain on the table" as Bishop's Stortford and their fellow non-League clubs prepare to have their say on how to conclude the 2020-21 season.
Nick Robinson and his fellow board members believe terminating the pandemic-hit campaign and declaring it null and void is the best option.
The FA has issued a survey to clubs in the National League System this week to get their views ahead of a final decision being made by the FA Council acting on a recommendation by its Alliance Committee.
But potential options that could see the Blues – who have played only six of their 42 Premier Division matches – make a return to competitive action this term include:
- Every club playing every other club in their division once. A balance would need to be required between home and away games while a points-per-game model would then be used to determine the final placings.
- Maintaining the season's suspension until it is safe/viable to return. This option could see clubs incur substantial extra wage costs and have knock-on negative effects in terms of pitch renovation and the following season's FA Cup qualifying rounds.
- Maintaining the season's suspension and resuming in August or September. This would see clubs play all of their outstanding fixtures, providing plenty of time to complete the 2020-21 season, even if there is further disruption to the schedule. Again, challenges relate primarily to player wages.
- Merging the 2019-20 season and 2020-21 results. Clarification has been requested from the FA with regards to the possibility of reopening last season, which was declared null and void, to 'complete' one campaign.
However, the Isthmian League believes the uncertainty over when the current lockdown will end and whether member clubs would then return to tiers preventing them from taking part in non-elite sport means declaring the season null and void remains the most sensible option.
"One hundred per cent of our clubs were in tier 4 when the latest lockdown was introduced and we could not stage games unless a substantial proportion of clubs across steps three and four were downgraded to at least tier 2," said Robinson.
"The overwhelming feedback from Isthmian clubs, replicated by the Northern Premier and Southern League clubs, is that resuming competitive football is not financially viable unless paying fans are permitted and clubs are able to derive secondary income from clubhouses or alternative sources.
"We currently have 1,220 fixtures left to play across our four divisions. If circumstances permitted a restart in March, at least two weeks would be required to bring players' fitness levels up to scratch. This would mean clubs playing three times a week – and sometimes four – to enable a full fixture programme to be completed by May 31.
"If the 2020-21 season was extended into June, or it was not possible to resume until April or later, we run into additional problems, including players and volunteers wanting to take holidays (travel restrictions permitting), grass pitch maintenance (usually 10 weeks) and the start of the 2021-22 season, in which the FA Cup qualifying round dates are pre-set to achieve the broadcasters' target first-round date.
"We would also need to find a solution to player contracts requiring clubs to pay wages through to the end of the playing season. If 2020-21 is extended into June or beyond, the start of 2021-22 would probably be delayed, by which time the early FA Cup preliminary rounds would be played, triggering player wage payments."
Robinson added that no clubs have yet played enough games for final positions to be decided. Even if the season did restart, 75% of fixtures would probably have to be completed across each step to justify promotion and relegation.