Saturday 23rd January 2021, 3pm KO – National League at Hayes Lane, Bromley
It has been a turbulent week for the National League with clubs, quite rightly, rejecting the proposal that the second tranche of their Government funding would come in the form of loans and not grants, that were promised at the start of the season. Clubs agreed to start the 2020/21 season back in October behind closed doors on the understanding that Government funding would only be in loans. Now faced with the issue of shifting goal posts, the clubs are faced with a real dilemma as to whether they continue to play without any funding or bring the season to an early close.
48 hours before the game the two clubs agreed to switch the fixture, with the conditions in Yorkshire poor and unlikely to improve, whilst Bromley had the media team in place to stream the game live.
The home side had had a busy week on and off the pitch, with contract extensions announced for a number of players including the league’s top scorer, Michael Cheek, and goal keeper Mark Cousins, although despite both having a big involvement in their FA Trophy tie against Woking on Tuesday, neither could prevent Bromley exiting the competition.
On Friday afternoon it was announced that all games in the National League North and South were postponed for two weeks to give the league and the clubs an opportunity to work out a solution. But for Step 1, it was business as usual.
For Bromley, this was far from business as usual. Due to COVID, cups and bad weather this was going to be their first league game since they beat Solihull Moors in mid-December, some six weeks ago. Prior to their trip to FC Halifax Town they had 30 National League games still to play before the end of the extended season to the end of May, or almost two games a week, and that is assuming no further COVID cancellations. The club sat in a very crowded midfield in the table coming into the game, knowing that a win over 6th placed Halifax would see them leap-front the side from Yorkshire and into the Play-offs.
For how much longer the season would continue is anyone’s guess, although the National League will look to get as many games in as possible and avoid a Null and Void situation which would put any movement to and from the Football League at risk. For most clubs at this level, that strategy is costing clubs thousands of pounds each week, with most players being under contract and having to fund COVID-19 testing themselves.
Whilst clubs like Bromley provide a high-quality match day streaming programme at £9.99, the number of subscribers, and the price they pay, is significantly less than would have attended this match in normal circumstances, not forgetting the secondary spend whilst in the ground. But nothing can replace the atmosphere in the ground that fans generate.
The work continues at a pace within Hayes Lane. The new Glyn Beverley Stand sits proudly at the South End, with indoor training and function facilities hidden behind the impressive facade whilst the Main Stand is slowly being rebuilt, supervised by Gareth, the club’s cat. The club is on track to be ready for the Football League, although that would mean the removal of the 3G pitch, another senseless rule that exists in English Football.
However, any hopes and ambitions of the Football League are underpinned by results on the pitch and unfortunately Bromley couldn’t get their first win of 2021 against a very organised Halifax Town side who capitalised on two defensive errors to take all three points.
Michael Cheek opened the scoring from the spot, earning the penalty in similar circumstances as he did on Tuesday in the FA Trophy tie against Woking, picking himself up to smash the ball home in the first half. However, the visitors equalised when a cross from the right was spilt in his six-yard box by Cousins and then the keeper was harshly adjudged to have brought down the on-rushing Halifax forward. Luke Summerfield sent the Cousins the wrong way to equalise.
After a feisty first half which saw the referee brandish four yellows, the second half started on a calmer footing although the away team were soon in front when Centre-Back Kory Roberts hesitated and Jamie Allen nipped in, accelerated clear of the defence and slotted home. The best move of the game saw Bromley come within inches of an equaliser when Duffus teed up Cheek but his powerful strike hit the post and rebounded to safety.
The home side went down to ten-men with twenty minutes to play when Liam Trotter saw red for a zealous, but not dangerous, challenge on Halifax’s Williams. Despite being at a man disadvantage, Bromley looked the more likely to score in the final quarter but were held at bay by a strong, organised Halifax side.
In normal circumstances a defeat with two-thirds of the season to play will never be pivotal but with the future of the league still unclear, every point could be vital in how final positions are determined, something the club were left to think about when the final whistle blew and all three points would be heading back to the frozen north.