2019-20: players and fans deserve a fair finish

Cod Almighty | Article

by John England

1 April 2020

Expunging results from the lower leagues is ill-thought out, clumsy and wrong. John argues we all deserve a fairer finish to 2019-20

Like many football fans I was disappointed and a little disturbed by the decision of the FA to expunge the results of the 2019-20 season from the National Leagues down. As supporters of a relatively small football club and having, in recent times, experienced six years in non-League, we can feel sympathy with those clubs affected by that decision, particularly that club who share the Mariners nickname, South Shields FC. South Shields were runaway leaders in their league and undoubtedly (as far as one can say such a thing) destined for promotion until the cruel strikes of COVID-19 and the FA.

It may well be that all results throughout the various leagues will be expunged too and even though that won't affect us - let's be honest we're neither realistically going up nor down - it seems to me very unjust. I was moved to write a letter to the FA, published below in its entirety.

A football fan is a fan, whatever the size of his club. This ruling is ill-thought, clumsy and downright wrong. How can we contemplate a new season in 2020-21 when the previous one wasn't even concluded?

Is it really fair that the 2019-20 results of the football pyramid below the National Leagues have been expunged, the results of seven months of hard work and dedication treated as though they never happened? What about those teams whose efforts in those seven months have put them in sight of the main prize, promotion to a higher division? The dreams of players and supporters dismissed out of hand. What about the financial side, clubs gambling their livelihoods with the purchase of players and increased financial outlay in the hope that promotion would bring recompense and reward?

Maybe this decision is to be applied throughout the whole football pyramid but if not, that makes it even worse. Why should a fan of South Shields or Jersey Bulls (two clubs dominant in their respective leagues) be treated differently to fans of Liverpool or Leeds United? A football fan is a fan, whatever the size of his club.
This ruling is ill-thought, clumsy and downright wrong. Surely it makes sense to finish what was begun in August 2019. How can we contemplate a new season in 2020-21 when the previous one wasn't even concluded? What if a new season begins in August and a few months down the line there is a recurrence of the coronavirus or even the advent of a new one. Presumably, that season won’t be finished either and its results also expunged.

Would it not make more sense to finish this season, however long it takes, and then take stock and plan for the following season? Let this season recommence when it is safe to do so. Let it finish and if it takes six months, so be it. At least justice will be done.

What then, of the following season, 2020-21? What if the current season ends after the date when the new one was scheduled to begin? Football seasons begin in August and finish in April or May, but is this a rule set in stone, can there be no flexibility?

Actually, there may be a way forward.

Let's imagine a possible scenario whereby the 2019-20 recommences but ends in October 2020. Clearly there can no longer be a full 2020-21 league season ending, as usual the following May. So, why not rearrange a new reduced season so we fans can still get our fix with games still taking place each week but in a different format.

Each division could be sub-divided so that, for example, a division of 24 teams becomes two divisions of 12 teams. Each team in that division plays the other twice, so that’s 22 games in total for each club. The top four in each group could then together be put into a knockout competition along the lines of the Champions League. The eight clubs will play for a new trophy and, provided this is agreed at the start of the season, the winners and runners-up will gain promotion to the division above.

What about relegation? Well, simply take the bottom two from each of those two groups of 12 and have two play-off games (over 2 legs, home and away) whereby the losers are relegated. It would certainly grab the attention of the fans and is a far better idea than having no play at all.

I appreciate this may seem a strange idea but these are strange times and we are in uncharted waters. The FA needs to navigate us through them, but in a direction that is fair for all football fans, whoever we support.