By Andrew Warshaw
March 27 – Whilst the professional game in England clings to the hope of completing the season, the game at non-league and grassroots level has been officially wound up. Or rather, most of it.
In a controversial move, the English Football Association has announced that the campaign at Step 7 and below of the national game is to end immediately with all results expunged and no promotion or relegation.
But the fifth and sixth tiers – the two divisions immediately under League Two (National League and National League north and south) – are still being given a chance to resume playing at some point.
That has infuriated lower league clubs who claim the top non-league teams are being allowed to drag their feet because of playing contracts and broadcast revenues, arguing all non-league football should have been wound up at the same time or at least treated the same way.
Some teams in the minor leagues had already gained promotion but this will now be cancelled as will relegations.
Northern Premier League Premier Division leaders South Shields FC were set for promotion to National League North with a 13-point gap to second, but will now spend another campaign in tier seven of English football.
Chairman Geoff Thompson vented his frustration on Twitter, saying they had been “badly let down”.
“SSFC will be writing to the FA in the strongest possible terms and will seek an appeal or will take legal action,” he said.
“Whatever the outcome following this appalling decision the club will continue as before. However, there is no denying this decision has a huge financial impact.
“We have invested heavily this year in a host of areas and the loss of promotion will also affect some of our revenue assumptions for next season. My message to all our SSFC fans and sponsors is – sorry a huge disappointment and we’ve all been badly let down.”
Truro City were top of the Southern League Premier Division South and were on the verge of promotion to the National League South.
Manager Paul Wotton says the FA treated lower-league sides differently to fully professional clubs who would be able to take legal action if all their results were expunged too.
“The bottom line is Liverpool would take the FA to court, we haven’t got the money to do that,” he told the BBC. “I genuinely believe there’s an element of ‘no-one down there’s going to kick off about it, they’ll be upset for a couple of days but they’ll get on with it’.”
“I understand at the minute there’s more important things in the world going on and it’s a horrific time for so many people, but without sounding selfish we’re devastated by the decision.”
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