It amused me to see some of the “uproar” on Social Media after the announcement on Wednesday 24th February 2021 that the Non-League season for Step 3 to 6 teams was no more. The decision had been weeks in the making, and with every day that passed with no sign of lockdown restrictions being lifted, nor any news from the FA, any hope that survived that we would see a return to competitive action ebbed away.
Personally, when the Prime Minister announced the country-wide tough lockdown restrictions that came into play just after Christmas, most football clubs at Lewes’ level and below knew it was game over for the season. With no immediate prospect of a review of restrictions, and players not having played, let alone trained for some time, at best we would see a few weeks of action if the conditions were right. However, with most teams having played less than a quarter of a season, you couldn’t realistically expect a competition to be run, with the results determining promotion and relegation.
I am sure some fans, clubs and groups were hoping that the FA may announce that they were adopting the principles laid down by Project Non-League, which would see promotion between some of the Steps 2-3-4-5 (and 6 I believe) but no relegation and would help towards the planned restructure of the leagues to create the final block in the true Non-League pyramid (1-2-4-8-16 leagues at Steps 1 to 5), the 8th Step 4 league.
Some of the feedback to the FA’s announcement was based on either an assumption or a misunderstanding of what they were announcing.
“Null and Void AGAIN – what’s the point of playing????”
“You’ve had months to come up with a solution and you have just repeated the same mistake as last season!”
“All the effort my club [X] has put in has been wasted.”
I certainly agree that the announcement could have explained the situation in a clearer way as a lot of this anger and frustration was slightly misguided. Whilst there would be no return to competitive league action for the clubs at Steps 3 to 6, the season wasn’t being called Null and Void as the 2019/20 season was, but Curtailed. So, as many people were asking, what was the difference?
The analogy I used on Social Media on Wednesday night explains the situation in a way that most of us can relate to and understand the difference between the two scenarios and why the FA has got this right.
Imagine you are working on a report in Microsoft Word. For whatever reason you decide that you are going to scrap what you are doing and start again. What most people would do is close the document, clicking on the X in the top left hand corner. I’m then presented with the option to ‘Save’, ‘Don’t Save’ or ‘Cancel’. Null and Voiding the season is the same as clicking ‘Don’t Save’ on the document. All of information within the document will be lost and unretrievable in the future if you decided that you needed it again. Curtailing is the same as choosing ‘Save’. The information is saved for future access. There is a permanent record of the season unlike in the Null and Void situation where the records no longer exist.
The core of Project Non-League’s concept was combining the results from the 2019/20, which was approximately 70% complete, with the 20% of games from 2020/21, then using a PPG average to determine final league position. However, the 2019/20 season was declared Null and Void and thus the records no longer exist. However, by curtailing the 2020/21, the records are preserved and if the 2021/22 season is interrupted, the 2020/21 records can be used as a calculation method to determine league positions. It is a small wording change but the impact is major on the future of the game.
Most clubs will be frustrated, disappointed and angry that the season has ended without any clear resolution on the major issues at hand. Football is a competitive sport – clubs start every season with hope that this season will be THE season. The nature of the game means that there can only be one champion, one play-off winner, one cup winner and only a small number relegated. For the rest they simply end the season in the same way as they started it but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything to play for. Every club will have invested financially into their squads, their facilities and their operating costs, with revenues over the last year being restricted by the effects of the pandemic and rules around lockdown.
We can’t do anything about that now. We can learn from the past and try to ensure that the mistakes we have all made are not repeated in future. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but let’s now come together as a community and focus on making season 2021/22 the best we have ever had as a Non-League game.
Now, about that Step 4-6 restructure….