Non League Football is in a mess.
From Steps 1 to 6 each League is in trouble.
The National League has made some shocking decisions of late and this week made the call to Null and Void the two Divisions at Step 2.
That will have an obvious knock-on effect on the sides in the Leagues below, with promotion now unlikely due to no relegation from above. Null and Void is on the cards across the boards.
This will be a second season in a row that movement has been halted leaving leagues up and down the country going stale – with teams again forced to play the same monotonous fixture list.
The Trident Leagues of the Northern Premier, Isthmian and Southern Leagues made their stance clear very early that they want to expunge the 2020/21 Season, and despite a crowd-pleasing attempt to give Clubs their say via an FA-led survey, it looks almost certain that that Null and Void will now be the taken option.
It, on it’s own, is not a ridiculous decision at all of course. The Leagues have barely played 20% of their games so far and there is no time left to safely squeeze the remainder in before set deadlines.
However with it being the second year that will be wiped off we have to question whether there are other options on the table and we have time to do so. We simply need to explore all possibilities before accepting that the Non League game will remain stagnant for another 12 months.
The FA survey results will give us a clue as to what Clubs are thinking with ‘Resuming again in August’ and ‘Two-season PPG’ among potential rivals to the ‘Null and Void’ front runner. However with the main leagues setting out their stalls early, I think we all know where this is leading.
Null and Void will be used, just as it was last time and once again it will be led by the same powers that be.
But did we have to choose that ending back then and how did that decision come about?
Looking back to late last March and how the decision was made to ‘Null and Void’ football at Steps 3 to 6 we see that the Trident Leagues at Steps 3 and 4 dominant in giving us that decision.
The Isthmian League was the leading party in the push for ‘Null and Void’ and convinced the Southern League and Northern Premier League to align on the same course.
Speaking on the ‘Reposs Non League Show’ on 14th April Isthmian League Chairman Nick Robinson told of how the Trident Leagues came to their decision.
“When we all met, having gone through our boards, my mandate from the Isthmian League was ‘Null and Void’. The Southern League reported back that they were all in favour of a ‘points per match’ basis. The Northern Premier League board was ‘points per match’ but were not 100%, they were in two minds and could be persuaded.”
Persuaded they clearly were and ‘Null and Void’ was the chosen consensus.
Meanwhile, the Leagues Committee, which represents Steps 5 and 6, was split in it’s thoughts between ‘Null and Void’ or ‘PPG’ but with those above now aligned on their path to expunge the season, and promotion not being an option, the Leagues Committee fell in line – without giving it’s member leagues, or their clubs, a vote on the matter.
The Southern Counties East League released this statement at the time;
“The initial process in this decision involved a conference call between leagues at step 5 and 6, of which we were a part of. Our league put forward the view at this time that the season should be resolved on a points per game basis. We formed this opinion on the basis that success should be rewarded and that a lot of hard work had gone into the season by players, supporters and club officials. Indeed, there are a number of clubs currently outside the league that have expressed an interest in joining for the 2020/21 season through the proper channels and their hard work should also not be forgotten.
No vote was taken by leagues at this stage and it is true to say that opinions were divided across the country as to the best way to proceed. The Leagues Committee then took the decision to make the season null and void, the reasoning behind this is on the FA website, and the majority decision by the FA Council supported this stance. We know this will be an unwelcome conclusion to the season for many of our clubs, a number of whom have voiced their opinions directly to the FA.”
Interestingly at Steps 1 and 2, the National League, clubs were allowed a vote on the matter and chose a PPG finish. As did the English Football League Divisions One and Two – surely a pointer towards Null and Void being a poor decision.
The Women’s Super League and National Alliance Academy league were among many others who made the PPG call too.
Had we also chosen the PPG ending last season at Steps 3 to 6 it would be far easier to write this season off as it would be in isolation – and nobody would expect PPG to be used when so few games have taken place.
But we did choose ‘Null and Void’ – or a few people chose it for us – and because of that last season didn’t happen. This point also makes it hard to rescue this mess by choosing the ‘2-Season PPG’ option now.
To me it seems clear that we are paying the price for a poor decision last time. A decision that prevented progression then, and is still doing so a year later.
Those that made it will not admit that it was a bad call but it was. With most sides having played 75% of their games we had teams that were excelling in their leagues and we should have rewarded them for what they had done. Most of them were at the top end of the table again this year and are deserving of their opportunity to compete at the level above.
Surely one of the league’s main roles is to encourage progression and reward the highest achievers?
Some are quick to point towards the bottom of the table and say that it is not fair to relegate when the season has not run it’s full course but surely we should be supporting the achieving sides over giving another life to the under-achieving ones?
No option was perfect but of them all PPG was the best solution to the mess we were in.
We would have all preferred a natural conclusion and no pandemic.
With another season just about to be written off it is time we all admitted we are Paying the Price for a bad decision last year and people were held accountable or at least admitted their faults.
And no, before you say it, it’s not hindsight speaking because if you have a look back, many of us were saying it all along.