Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

FA’s controversial decision to expunge 2019/20 Non-League season sends shock waves down the footballing pyramid

Posted on 27 March 2020 by Pranav Shahaney
Photo Credits: Konrad Borzyskowski

Coronavirus is making headlines all over the world and has resulted in a suspension of a number of sporting events. As leagues are still unsure when they will return to action, speculation has been rife about what should be done with the remainder of the season.

On Friday the 13th of March, the announcement was made by the FA to suspend English league football for the top four tiers. A week later, professional football all over the country came to an immediate halt. This gave rise to speculation in the media about declaring the season as null and void.

Initially, the idea was laughed off but as the effects of the pandemic started to become dire, football associations all over the world were forced to make a decision about the current season. On Thursday, the FA announced that they will cancel the current Non-League season from step 3 to 6 by claiming all results of the campaign will be expunged.

This news undoubtedly shocked many in the footballing community. There have been mixed reactions from teams fighting for promotion compared to those battling against relegation. For a number of mid table sides, the decision will not make much of a difference as they had little to play for until the end of the campaign.

Photo Credits: Jersey Bulls Twitter

Arguably the biggest losers from this announcement were the newly formed non-league side Jersey Bulls. They had already secured promotion having picked up 81 points by winning all of their 27 games this season. Had things gone ahead without the interference of Covid-19, they would have been the first side from the island of Jersey to play in the English league system.

In the aftermath of it all, Bulls chairman Russell Le Feuvre cut a frustrated figure. Speaking to the Sports Gazette, “We are disappointed with FA’s decision to null and void the season as it discounted the club’s hard work over eight months in our first and record-breaking season. We will continue our fight,” he said.

When quizzed about whether the club would launch an appeal against the FA given how they mathematically secured promotion a few weeks ago, Le Fevure confirmed that the club would do so. He also assured us that the FA and Combined Counties League have already been contacted regarding this issue.

South Shields have been the most vocal in expressing their displeasure over this questionable call made by the association. They are 12 points clear in the Northern Premier League and with only nine games to play, it was unlikely that they would be denied a promotion berth. They released this damning statement a few hours after the announcement.

The famed Hashtag United, who have wowed social media with their unique origin story and have given their players once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, were also on the wrong end of this decision. With 65 points in the bag, United sat one point off first place with three games in hand. Had the decision been made to end the league by awarding promotion berths based on points-per-game, they would’ve not only gone to the next division but would also have comfortably won the league title.

Sports Gazette contacted their media team to capture their reaction 24 hours after the announcement. Spencer Owen, founder and CEO of Hashtag United, said: “It now seems like all those games we uploaded on YouTube were friendlies. I still can’t understand why we couldn’t have started whenever we did as ‘part 2’ of this season.”

“We’ll do whatever we can to have another title push next year. This is only a short-term setback and we are building a long-term future for this club. It’s ‘Coronavirus 1; Hashtag 0’ but it’s only half-time. The comeback’s on.”

Imrul Gazi, manager of Sporting Bengal United, who play in the same league as Hashtag United, backed the FA’s decision to end the season. He believes that the health and safety of the public is more important than football and it’s a move taken in their best interests.

“It’s 100 percent the most sensible decision to make. I can totally understand why the FA would make such a call. These are unprecedented times with hundreds of people dying daily and the last thing on everyone’s minds is football and lives are more important on football,” said Gazi.

Photo Credits: Sporting Bengal United Twitter

Gazi’s Sporting Bengal side sit mid-table at the moment and were only a few wins from ensuring safety. Thus, the decision did not have a huge effect on their current plans and gives them time to work on their health and well being and come back stronger in the 2020/21 campaign.

“We have too many games to finish this season which would then have an impact on next season. You can’t keep rolling on and should instead give teams time to prepare for the new campaign. I know it’s a shame for teams in the top four and those who have already secured promotion but it equally benefits those who are fighting against relegation,” he added.

The Board of Directors of the North West Counties Football League held an emergency meeting to discuss this announcement and while the rules state that they cannot appeal the decision made by the FA, they decided to write to them asking for an explanation and reasons for discounting other opinions that were suggested.

It’s also worth noting that Steps 1 and 2 have not faced a similar predicament – with their seasons expected to resume at a later date. The Board thus wants consistency in the entire Non-League structure, but so far is still to receive a response from the FA.

However, as of now, everything that’s happened in the 2019/20 season will cease to exist unless the FA decides to make an exception. Watch this space.