(Article first published in The Non League Paper.)
“He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise”
Eternity – William Blake 1757-1827
AND so everything changes. Except nothing has really changed. A week is a long time in football, except when there is no football and all we have is speculation to keep ourselves occupied.
Last week, the main talking point was the decision taken by the FA to render the men’s 2019/20 season null and void with no promotion and relegation from Steps 3 to 7.
Understandably, that caused some emotions to rise to the surface and a group of men’s clubs have already banded together and written to the FA to throw down the gauntlet on that decision.
As you would expect, a significant number of clubs who have put their name to that letter are those who were top of their respective league or within the play-off spots. They are the biggest losers in such a decision being made. However, as we stand today, there is no alternative, viable route.
The National League’s announcement on Tuesday that they had suspended the men’s season “indefinitely” leaves the clubs at Steps 1 to 2 no clearer on what the future holds.
If they ultimately decide not to complete the season but that they will promote and relegate based on points-per-game, they would be at odds with what is happening lower down the ladder.
On the other hand, if the National League decide to complete this season’s fixtures, we could have a situation where the Step 3-7 leagues are ready to start playing a new season in August, while the National League are still playing 2019-20 fixtures!
Of course, things could yet change if unhappy clubs at Steps 3 to 7 can win their potential battle with the FA and persuade the governing body not to expunge this season’s records.
What it all means is that the game is in a muddle at the moment and everyone badly needs clarity.
This is the result in football not speaking with one voice from the top down.
The longer decisions are postponed, the worse the outcome is for the vast majority of clubs in this country.
If, from the Premier League down, the decision was made to end the season and decide the winners and the losers by a common method (the fairest out of all non-equitable methods is points-per -game) then all clubs would be going into the next few months on a level playing field.
I’m sure there would be a few clubs who would miss out on promotion or face relegation despite being at the top or not near the bottom and they may consider a challenge to the decision.
The word indefinite does not give anyone any clarity or the ability to make informed decisions.
Players’ contracts end in a few weeks – what happens to those individuals during this indefinite period?
Can they move as free agents?
Are clubs expected to pay players after the contract end date during the period of indefinite definiteness?
I understand that the National League, along with the Premier League, Football League and of course the Football Association, want to return to action as soon as they can and complete the 2019/20 because that will solve some very difficult questions that need specific answers for, but we also have to be realistic.
With COVID-19 cases still on the rise and predictions that the number of infections could continue to do so for many weeks to come there will come a point when someone has to push the big red button on the 2019/20 season.
The question for many clubs is why hasn’t that decision already been made across all football.
Eternity should not be the answer to the biggest question facing football in this country today.