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Non-league is facing a divide

By Nick Elwell | Sport | Published:

A row is brewing over when and how to conclude the non-league season – with the National League still keen to try to play on.

Aaron Williams of Telford is tackled by Luke Graham of Kettering during the Vanarama Conference North fixture between AFC Telford United and Kettering

Clubs in the top three divisions of the non-league game, which include Wrexham and AFC Telford, remain keen to resume the season at a later date, possibly in the summer.

But that view is not shared by those lower down the pyramid, who want the campaign to be called off now – though they cannot yet agree on whether promotion or relegation should be applied.

After a series of meetings between the FA and non-league representatives failed to reach a consensus, the Northern League, Southern League and London-based Isthmian Leagues last night issued a joint statement confirming they had begun the formal process of terminating the season, while expressing ‘frustration’ at the continued delay.

It read: “The Southern, Isthmian and Northern Premier Leagues are unanimous in wanting to terminate the 2019-20 season immediately.

“Whether that is done on the basis of determining final placings via average points per game, or the season is declared null and void cannot be decided until the National League decides how it wishes to proceed.

“Right now, the National League’s position is that they wish to be able to resume the 2019-20 season at some point.

“The feeder leagues do not support this because our clubs do not have the financial resources to continue to honour player contracts indefinitely.”

Regional leagues further down the pyramid, including the Midland League and West Midlands Premier League, are expected to announce the termination of their seasons in the coming days, though the decisions must be formally ratified by the FA council.

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The governing body has been keen to find a solution which could apply across the non-league game in order to maintain the integrity of the competition.

But the National League’s reluctance to declare their season finished means a lengthy delay may be in prospect before it is determined whether promotion or relegation will be applied. The situation is further complicated by the fact clubs from step three and lower – including the likes of Market Drayton in the Northern South East Division – are thought to be split on how best to conclude the campaign.

While some clubs believe the final standings should be decided on a points per game average, others want the season to be declared null and void.

Those clubs currently in promotion and relegation positions, including current West Midlands League Premier Division leaders Shifnal Town, now face a likely wait of several weeks before discovering their fate.

Nick Elwell

By Nick Elwell
Grassroots Sports Editor

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