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It’s been a few weeks now since our previous update in January, during which we have been treated to a few delightful snowy scenes in the east and a significant number of vaccinations provided to those in the priority groups.
What does this all point to you might well ask? We’re all expecting the government to outline some kind of “roadmap” in just over a week’s time where we may be given some clues as to when grassroots sport may be able to resume, be that in their short or longer term plans.
When might we be able to play matches once again?
It’s not expected that grassroots contact sports will be part of the very earliest of restriction easings but additional fitness opportunities akin to last summer may be something they consider to begin with, providing opportunity for small groups to resume non-contact training. In reality, your guess remains as good as ours though when it comes to pin-pointing a date for a matchplay return.
Another crucial factor is whether there is a reintroduction of the tier system which began the downfall of grassroots sport back in December, preventing travel between regions from tier 3 and upwards. If a return to the same system was to occur, realistically, we’d be needing to move down to tier 2 before things could resume to the satisfaction of clubs.
Where does this leave the season as it stands?
This is largely out of our hands, as it was last season when the FA made the decision to halt the 2019/20 season in April. We know that the FA have recently sent out a survey to key stakeholders in the game to ascertain their views and it would seem that they are working top-down to get a decision made on football at step 1 and 2 level first before cascading this through the middle non-league steps and then down to the grassroots game. It’s unlikely we will know the outcome of this until after the next government announcement.
Speaking practically, with almost four months of the season lost by the time we reach the spring, there are diminishing hopes of a conclusion to present league competitions. Should this be the case, we will once again review our constitution to ensure teams are placed in the correct divisions for their respective abilities in 2021/22.
If the present league competitions are terminated, what are the plans to provide football?
Presuming the FA put a halt on the present footballing season, preventing a return to these competitions when football can resume, the management committee recently met and looked into the possibility of providing a competitive cup competition, utilising a format that would provide a guaranteed number of matches, rather than a knockout format.
With the league committed to providing member clubs with some form of football if at all possible, this was agreed in principle though we’re not yet able to plan much further until such time that a resumption date is determined of course. Once we have an indication of this, the views of clubs will be sought to help us put a plan in place.
How are things looking for next season?
Once of the things that appears to be far more promising compared to last season is that we should (famous last words) be looking forward to an uninterrupted season in 2021/22. The government hope to have vaccinated most of the adult population by August and, whether this target is met or not, we should expect that a number of the restrictions we became used to last year to have lessened. The most important of these you might say is the reintroduction of changing facilities, something I’m sure we can all agree it was far from ideal to be without.
So far we have seen a remarkably high level of interest in new clubs wanting to join the league, undeterred by the challenges of the past twelve months it seems and keen to get involved with our competition. Hopefully this is a trend we continue to see in the coming weeks as we’re sure many sides will be determined to get stuck into a new campaign.
What is the update on achieving Regional Feeder League (Step 7) status?
As you will recall, the restructuring of the National League System was postponed last year due to the voiding of the leagues within that structure, thus preventing us from joining the NLS. Whether this is repeated this year or not, we are unsure and will largely be determined on whether the FA proceed with their delayed restructure plans this summer.
What we do know is that our application was put forward once again this season and that our proposal is listed for discussion by the FA’s Leagues Committee in the coming weeks. We certainly remain very positive and hope that we are able to get an answer more swiftly than last year as, of course, the ramifications on planning for our present and potential Senior Division clubs are well understood. We will communicate the outcome as soon as we receive it.
Whilst there are few answers to the many questions we all have at the moment, the news is becoming more positive on the vaccinations front and therefore we should retain hopes of some football being possible at the backend of this truncated campaign. Brighter times are most certainly ahead of us and we're very much looking forward to next season which should be memorable for the right reasons!