It's over! FA delivers long-awaited verdict on non-league football season
The FA has spoken. And the league seasons for Isthmian League and Southern Combination clubs are over.
FA and league officials have agreed the 2020-21 season for all step three to six clubs 'should be curtailed with immediate effect, with no further league matches taking place this season'.
But Wednesday night's FA statement - the gist of which was exclusively revealed on this website on Wednesday morning - does raise questions.
There is NO mention of whether the Project Non League proposals - which were to use results from two unfinished seasons to work out points per game tables and promote the top teams - has been considered, or is even still under consideration.
And the statement contains talk of a restructure of steps four (Isthmian south-east), five and six (SCFL premier and division one). If that were to lead to an increase in teams at step four level - perhaps with an extra division in one of the leagues - it raises the question of how teams would earn the right to move up from step five to four.
The FA revealed that three-quarters of clubs who took part in a survey wanted the season scrapped if it could not restart with fans and opened bars and clubhouses by April 1.
This curtailment of the season does still need FA Council ratification, but that is not expected to change anything.
The full FA statement said: "Our alliance and leagues committees have now considered the large amount of data and information submitted by clubs across the National League System (NLS) Steps 3-6 as part of a survey to gather views on the continuation or conclusion of the 2020-21 league season, in addition to the information set out in the Government’s roadmap this week.
"Submissions were made by 99.1 per cent of clubs at Steps 3 and 4, and 95.8 per cent of clubs at Steps 5 and 6. We would like to thank the clubs for submitting their views and the time taken in providing responses during what we appreciate is an incredibly challenging period for everyone.
"The results of the survey showed that over 76 per cent of all clubs across Steps 3-6 indicated a preference to curtail the 2020-21 league season if it could not be restarted with limited spectator numbers and hospitality before 1 April 2021.
"During this process, taking into account views of clubs and leagues, it was decided that extending the 2020-21 league season beyond the end of May 2021 would not be a viable option. This was due to various considerations, including the financial implications for many clubs, player contracts and the extent of the fixture scheduling issues caused by the national lockdown and various postponements which had resulted in there being 81 per cent of matches left to complete for Steps 3 and 4, and 75 per cent at Steps 5 and 6.
"Taking into account the survey results and the ongoing impact of Covid-19, which continues to adversely affect incomes for clubs due to restrictions on both spectators and hospitality, our alliance and leagues committees have reached a consensus that, subject to the approval of FA Council, the 2020-21 league season for Steps 3-6 of the NLS should be curtailed with immediate effect, with no further league matches taking place this season.
"The committees will now present their collective recommendations to the FA Council for ratification.
"It has also been decided that, subject to FA Council’s decision regarding the curtailment of the season at Steps 3 to 6, both committees will revisit discussions around a potential restructure at Steps 4-6 of the NLS, which was previously agreed and has been on hold since the 2019-20 season. A further update on this will be provided in due course."
The last paragraph of the statement is interesting - it suggests the authorities are still looking at rejigging numbers at step four (Isthmian south east and its equivalents) and five and six (SCFL premier and one and their equivalents). If that happens now, how will it work? If some clubs are moved up a step without having played a full seasons, those at other levels will surely protest.
The non-league season for clubs at step three (Isthmian, Southern and Northern League premier divisions) and below has been on hold since the start of November and most teams have played only between five and ten games.
In January the boards of the three leagues said they felt the best course of action was to terminate the league seasons as too much time was being lost and there was no prospect of an imminent restart.
At the same time all step three to six clubs were surveyed on what they thought should happen - but the results of that survey were not made public until now.
The decision on the 2020-21 season comes 11 months after the 2019-20 season was controversially declared null and void - when much more of the fixture list was complete.
What's your view on the decision? Email sport/[email protected] or tweet @stevebone1 with your views.