Determining the Outcome of the 2020/21 Season
Since the implementation of the latest national lockdown restrictions at the turn of the year, football at ‘non-elite’ levels has been suspended. This includes matches and training for the first team and management. It is currently planned for these restrictions to end on 31st March (or earlier if deemed possible), however, even with a smooth return of football in the Spring, there are challenges for scheduling the remaining games ahead of the FA’s season deadline on 31st May.
Looking at the difficulties faced with scheduling the remaining games, the NWCFL recommendation was in line with an approach which could be applied across Steps 3-6 of the non-league structure and for the season to be adandoned with records intact but no promotion or relegation applied. Opinions from the clubs on the way forward were welcomed.
Naturally, with a keenness for the season to continue, the AFC Board turned to seeking options on how to conclude the season which included playing games whilst providing fairness to all. As well as consulting manager Andy Welsh, we have had dialogue with other non-league clubs who, despite recognising that a universal approach would be difficult to agree on, were keen to find a resolution that involved games being played in some form.
Many clubs were involved in the 2019/20 season, which was abruptly ended due to the onset of Covid-19 from March 2020, and wanted to avoid a repeat if possible. It was also recognised that if football was able to return from April of this year, most players, management and fans would wish to get playing again as soon as possible and not wait until August and the start of the 2021/22 season for competitive football to return.
We have subsequently received the FA’s ‘Determining the Outcome of the 2020/21 NLS Season’ Club Survey last weekend which will consider the results of polling all clubs at Steps 5-6. The key question related to the conclusion of the season from the point of fixtures resuming once lockdown restrictions had lifted to allow both of the following scenarios to be present:
- The admission of spectators is allowed at up to 30% of the minimum grading levels for the league being participated in (300 for Bury AFC in Step 6).
- Clubs able to have access to secondary income streams on matchday i.e. bar income.
Following a Board meeting alongside the manager, we proposed that the season should continue from any point whereby the above scenarios can be realised. In the event whereby the season is able to start before the 1st April but all fixtures cannot be completed by the 31st May, we have voted for the proposal, that subject to 66% of the fixtures being completed, allows for promotion & relegation based on Points per Game (PPG). This solution would remove any playoffs and promotion would be settled by the top two in the league being promoted only.
Should the season restart after 1st April, we have voted for the season to continue to a full resolution (all fixtures to be completed) delaying the start of the 2021/22 season. This solution was selected over the only other option of the season being terminated with immediate affect.
We were offered the option to also present any other solutions for consideration. At this point, we have suggested the possibility of the PPG metric being applied after the completion of 50% of league fixtures over the option to null and void the season. On the basis that the minimum threshold for applying PPG is not met, all records would be expunged.
We have submitted these responses to the FA in time for yesterday’s deadline imposed and await to hear back in due course.
A way forward
The above process is subject to the results of all clubs across Steps 3-6 and despite our recommendations for football to continue in any way possible, we have to accept that the recommendation may return from the FA for the season to end prematurely.
To that end, the Board have already started discussing the possibility of playing games, creating some healthy competition where possible. We are keen to avoid the period between now and a new season with no football.
We will explore these options further as the decision regarding the season becomes clearer.