FOOTBALL: No Fruits Of The Season?
Hastings United will challenge FA decision to expunge results
The Premier League and English Football League have yet to decide how to resolve their unfinished schedules. Supporters of Liverpool (waiting to celebrate their first league title in 30 years) and of Stevenage (marooned at the bottom of League 2) wait with contrasting hopes and fears to learn their clubs’ respective fates. But for Hastings United, unhappy news has already arrived, with an FA decree that all match results since last August in Steps 3 to 6 of the non-league pyramid, including all divisions of the Betvictor Isthmian League, are to be expunged. The season of 2019/20 has been declared not merely dead and buried, but effectively unborn.
Craig Stone of Hastings United
PICTURE: Scott White
United – with three-quarters of the season played, only two league defeats sustained, and three points clear of the pack with two games in hand – were clear favourites to march on to a first championship in 18 years and thus achieve promotion back to the Isthmian Premier after a seven-year absence. Since Christmas, home crowd numbers at Pilot Field had averaged over 730 per game. To have the whole season nullified is a cruel disappointment – and one which CEO Billy Woods intends to challenge as far as he can.
On 30th March he issued a press release stating that the club is in dialogue with “a continuously growing number of football clubs from around the nation” who feel that the existing season should be played out to a finish “whenever safe to do so”, as seems still quite likely in the case of the higher leagues.
Mr Woods urges reconsideration of the voiding decision: “We understand the uncertainty of when football can resume but, for the integrity of the competitions with 70% (in some cases more) already completed, the completion of this season should be held in higher regard than the start of the 2020/21 season… The decision to null and void our season without any consultation with the member clubs in such a hasty manner seems unjust, not only to the clubs leading their divisions but to each and every member club whose management, volunteers, players and supporters have given up their time and money.
“This isn’t about Hastings United,” said Mr Woods. “This is about the knock-on effect across our non-league game.”
There are effectively two alternative options that the league committees will have considered before making their decision, and which may be further debated before it is ratified by the FA:
• playing the season out whenever the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic allow; or
• determining final places (and applying promotion and relegation issues accordingly) on the basis of points per game attained so far.
Elongation of the season past the end of May, now inevitable if the full schedule were to be fulfilled, would cause severe complications for non-league clubs, including Hastings United, that operate with season-to-season player contracts and registrations. While clubs vying for promotion may well prefer it, the majority who are not would have no incentive to play along.
Adopting current placings as final, with adjustments for numbers of games played, will seem fair to those like Hastings in prime positions; less so for those just outside promotion spots or, equally affected, those that would be thus doomed to a relegation they will have been hoping to avoid.
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