With the country approaching lockdown and sporting events on the verge of being cancelled we are about to reach the end of the non-league season without it reaching it’s natural conclusion.
There is no doubt that the most important thing is people’s health and if we need to stop the National game to protect everyone then it needs to happen, that is not in doubt, but there are many of us interested and involved in Non-League football that are wondering how the leagues will be finalised.
Will we finish it at a later stage? Do we just void the season and carry on next time with the same Divisions? Is the current table the final table? What will happen to all the planned moves across the pyramid? There are many questions about to be asked and probably not many answers around so here I try and look ahead to what could happen next and try and come up with a suitable solution.
Void the Season
At the top of the tree, in the Premier League, Liverpool are 25 points clear and on the verge of lifting their first title in a generation. Is it fair to deny them this by voiding the season? No, it’s not. They deserve it, have spent a lot of money earning it and need to be rewarded with the trophy. This is simply why the option of ignoring the season is not the right one as it is replicated in many leagues at all levels across the country for example the Isthmian North Division.
I hear a few people saying that we should just use the current table as it is the most simple of options. Simple, yes, fair, no. The obvious problem is that teams have played a different amount of games so it obviously favours the sides that have played the most.
Here are some examples at the top of tables across the non league pyramid…
Would it be fair on Tamworth if Peterborough Sports were handed the title this season? No, and that is why we need to find a better solution than this.
Finish it later
One option may be to finish the season once the virus has passed and the country is safe again. This is a potential option for the Premier League as it could give them an opportunity to align their season with the World Cup in Qatar 2022 but it is not a viable option in Non League. Let’s say we could get back on the field by the summer (which we won’t in my opinion), there would be issues around contracts, registration, plans, fitness and especially at the lower levels ground availabilty. If people think we should carry on whenever football continues however long it takes the problem would be that players would have left clubs by then and registration would be a nightmare. This virus is not a short term thing by the looks of it, it won’t be a matter of weeks more likely many, many months.
Reallistically teams would be nothing like those that competed in the other three-quarters of the season and only those in search of honours would be going all out to get the win.
That’s why we need a clean break. Season ends now, has a definitive stop to it, is the same for all and has a fair conclusion.
The answer: PPG averages
The answer is simple – Points Per Games tables. The FA already uses PPG to decide some promotion and relegation issues and the reason why is that they are the fairest way of deciding an outcome to a tricky situation. The system works best when lots of games have been played and that is the case with where we are at this stage of the year. Having analysed many tables this week the PPG results don’t differ massively from the current ‘real’ tables except that they don’t penalise sides for having played less games.
We need a Duckworth-Lewis method to solve our season and Points Per Game is it.
For those interested in it I have below gone through the Top 7 Divisions in Kent Non League Football and worked out the winners and losers using PPG aswell as comparing them to the current ‘real’ tables.
Last update – 22nd March
Step 1 – National League
The PPG table hardly differs from the main table as most teams have played a similar amount of games. In this Division we have play-offs which will certainly provide arguments when we discuss how the season should be solved if it ends early. Positions 2 to 7 were to play-off to find a winner that would go up to the Football League with the team at the top. With play-offs looking an unrealistic option the best decision will be to just promote the top 2 in the PPG table. That would be Barrow and Harrogate Town and although the teams closest to them may moan and not be too happy about it I think it’s hard to argue against them deserving promotion more than anyone else in this unique situation that we find ourselves in.
The relegation rules state that the bottom 4 would go down. Again the bottom 4 in both tables are the same so it is hard to argue against those being the sides that should drop a Division.
|17||Dagenham & Red||37||44||1.19|
Step 2 – National League South
The PPG table here again hardly differs from the main table below as most teams have played a similar amount of games. Once again we should have had Play-Offs with the solution now instead to just promote the top 2 in the PPG table.
In that case Wealdstone would be the Champions and Havant & Waterlooville would go up with them. I struggle to see how anyone could argue with that in this unique situation as they are also the top 2 in the current real time table.
At the bottom end Tonbridge Angels would benefit most from switching to the PPG table as having played far fewer games than the rest they are struggling in the ‘real’ table but much better off in the PPG one.
Relegation rules state that 2 get relegated. Both tables have the same results in that Hungerford Town and Braintree Town are the teams that should drop down.
|2||Havant & Waterlooville||34||67||1.97|
|8||Hampton & Richmond||33||47||1.42|
|20||St Albans City||35||37||1.05|
Step 3 – Isthmian Premier
The PPG table hardly differs from the main table again as most teams have played a similar amount of games. Positions 2 to 5 were due to be play-offs but we will remove them and just promote the top 2 in the PPG table which in this case will be the Champions Worthing and runners-up Cray Wanderers.
Relegations rules state that the bottom 2 go down. That would be Brightlingsea Regent and Merstham. There is an addition that the 2 3rd from bottom teams from the 4 Step 3 Divisions that have the worst PPG will also be relegated. Unfortunately for Wingate & Finchley they are the 2nd worst performing 3rd from bottom team at Step 4 so they would also be relegated.
Overall, for the key decisions of promotion and relegation, the PPG and current real table both give us the same results once play-offs are removed.
|9||Bognor Regis Town||32||53||1.65|
|10||East Thurrock Utd||30||46||1.53|
|14||Potters Bar Town||32||41||1.28|
|15||Bowers & Pitsea||33||40||1.21|
|20||Wingate & Finchley||33||25||0.76|
Step 4 – Isthmian South East Division
The PPG table differs slightly from the main table below as teams have played anywhere from 25 to 30 games. By removing the play-offs and promoting the top 2, Champions Hastings United and the runners up Cray Valley PM would be playing in the Isthmian Premier next time around.
For relegation this season the bottom club in this Division was to play-off against a 2nd place Step 5 team. There is no easy solution to this as there will be no games for many months I believe. I would personally make the decision to reward success not failure and relegate the bottom club and promote the 2nd placed Step 5 club. This would be bad news for East Grinstead Town but I would imagine another solution than mine would be sought.
|2||Cray Valley PM||28||57||2.03|
Step 5 – SCEFL Premier
Unfortunately an early end to the season would see us miss out on a thrilling title race between the top 5 clubs in the Premier Division but a solution needs to be found and PPG is it. The first 2 places were the main target for the top clubs with the runners-up this campaign also having the chance to join the SCEFL Champions in Step 4. The PPG table hands the title to Corinthian but the good news for the runners-up Beckenham Town is that their average score is also good enough to see them automatically go up. The 4 Step 5 clubs with the best PPG scores across the country would receive that bonus and Becks currently just fit into that scenario. Good news for them but not for Sheppey Utd, Chatham Town and Tunbridge Wells who still had every chance of making it into the top 2 and will now need to look forward to next time when they can give it another go again. This is surely the fairest solution however as Corinthian and Beckenham have been the top sides in the table for most of the year and in the Hoops case would be good consolation for having their Wembley dreams put on hold until the country gets out of this awful situation.
There are no issues to be solved at the bottom of the table as Greenwich Borough fill the only relegation place that was on offer despite them not being around any more and not taking up their place in the Division below for next year.
|6||Hollands & Blair||27||42||1.55|
|19||Erith & Belvedere||28||20||0.71|
Step 6 – SCEFL First Division
The First Division was heading for an exciting climax to the season with 7 teams still battling it out for the 4 promotion places. We will be denied the entertaining finish but here are the results of the table if we use PPG to shape it. Rusthall, Holmesdale, Kennington and Rochester United would go up and to be fair to those sides they have held positions in the top 4 for most of the season but it would be understandably frustrating for the next 3 teams that would certainly have felt they had a chance to make it had they been able to play on.
The relegation rules state that the bottom 2 teams are liable for relegation. Snodland Town and Kent Football Utd could then go down but with a probable lack of numbers in this Division next season a more fairer option could be to let them fight another day at Step 6 and see the start the next campaign at this level.
|12||Forest Hill Park||26||32||1.23|
|17||Kent Football Utd||26||8||0.30|
Step 7 – Kent County Premier
The top 3 places in the PPG table are the same as the current standard table but the rest are much changed due to wide disparity of games played by the clubs. Hopefully the season isn’t voided and the FA use PPG as a way of solving things and rewarding Staplehurst Monarch United for their hard work by making them champions.
(Last update 16th March)
|1||Staplehurst Mon Utd||20||52||2.60|
|11||K Sports Res||23||22||0.95|
So there we have it, Kent’s top 7 football Divisions solved by PPG!
The only perfect solution is to play the games now but with that not being an option the next best thing is PPG as it gives us deserved winners,promotion and relegation plus a clean break ahead of whenever the next league season can start.
And for the Cup competitions?
I would say if we have reached the semi-final stages then just continue them at the start of next season, maybe as pre-season games. Any earlier round than that, just scrap them. Not ideal but the best option in my opinion.