The Future of Non League Football – Stop inequality at the end of the season

A couple of weeks I wrote about CBA-itis on the last day of the Ryman League.  With 55 goals scored in just 11 games you got the feeling that some teams weren’t taking the final games seriously.  In fact even the Ryman League in their normal non-political, neutral tone commented that a few teams were “De-mob happy”.  Unfortunately clubs are able to reduce their squads (and thus weekly budget) at will if players are not on a contract. So if you have nothing to play for why would you retain the more expensive players in your squad?

On Wednesday 3rd May Ware finally staged their last game of the season against Waltham Forest in the Ryman League North.  The game had been postponed three times since the last Saturday of the season due to a waterlogged pitch as rain continued to lash the south of England.  Ware needed to win by three clear goals to avoid relegation.  Ilford could only watch on from a distance to see if Waltham Forest, themselves with nothing to play for, could stop Ware winning and then winning by the three goals.  The Isthmian League decreed that this game HAD to be played as soon as possible so that the season could be wrapped up (that is another story).

Come kick off time and the visitors could only muster nine players.  At that point how do you think Ilford must have thought?  They toiled for 42 games, in some instances against the odds, to fulfil their fixtures, yet another team couldn’t even get 11 players on a pitch and as a result there was a good chance they would be relegated.  By the end of the game, it ended up 10 v 8 as both teams had a player sent off, although Ware could only score two goals and thus were relegated on goals scored.  But what if they had scored a third?  What action would be available to Ilford to cry “foul”?  Or what would have happened if Waltham Forest would have on purposely got another player sent off to void the game? The official line from the Ryman League was the game was “surreal”.  To us it is simply wrong.

I can understand that some players would not have been able to get time off work for a midweek game, but again this goes down to the insistance of the leagues on trying to shoe-horn in fixtures because of bad weather.  Players faced with earning their wage or forfeiting some money to play in a meaningless game (for them) are hardly motivated to chose the latter.  Could this game have waited a few more days until Saturday?  Of course it could have, especially as the league couldn’t be completed until the Play Offs were done and dusted on Bank Holiday Monday.

Alternatively, the Non leagues could allow emergency players to be signed.  That would have certainly stopped the Tooting and Mitcham United incident with their goalkeeper, as would have any instance in the Football League outside of the transfer period. A few weeks ago Wealdstone were the visitors at “The Hub” in a game where they were still chasing a play off place.  The Terrors had already been relegated and had “suggested” to the players that £50 a week was more representative of their predicament.  So players departed, leaving the club with just one fit keeper.  And when he picked up an injury playing Sunday League (!) then there was none.  Volunteers were asked for around the dressing room before the centre-forward raised his hand.  Just after half time it was 6-0 to Wealdstone.

So what can be done to stop this?  It will take some guts from the leagues to look into these end of season games.  Up until now they have turned a blind eye to these events but to protect the integrity of the league they have to ensure that major decisions are not decided by teams inability to put out their strongest team at all times.

*As a footnote, Ware were actually reprieved from relegation during the annual reshuffle of leagues.


  1. A well argued point but there is a slight flaw in that Waltham Forest turned up for the originalk (Saturday) fixture against Ware without any subs and conceded that they were having increasing trouble getting a team together. Delaying to the next Saturday would, by all accounts, not have helped.

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