By Andrew Warshaw
April 2 – One of the UK’s youngest and most courageous club owners has laid bare exactly what it means for teams outside the country’s four professional divisions to have their seasons closed down and all results expunged.
Nothing will ever match the pain George Dowell (pictured) suffered in an horrendous car accident a decade ago that changed his life forever and left him paralysed from the chest down and confined to a wheelchair.
But the anguish of seeing his beloved Worthing denied the chance to play in Conference South next season – two steps below the professional pyramid – has left the 27-year-old devastated after virtually saving the club from extinction.
The recent ruling to declare virtually all of English football’s part-time pyramid null and void whilst at the same time leaving the door ajar for the top two non-league rungs, National League and National north and south, to potentially complete their seasons (even though they have been suspended indefinitely) has caused a wave of anger across the grass-roots game.
Not least at Worthing who were poised for their second promotion in five years under Dowell, who is no ordinary owner having ploughed some £800,000 – including his entire compensation from his accident in 2010 – into the club.
“I’m obviously gutted right now,” said Dowell. “Everyone appreciates that tough decisions have to be made in the current climate and that the priority is to stay safe but you have to treat everyone the same way. This ruling is completely unfair.”
Shortly before he bought Worthing, for whom he played as a teenager with dreams of competing at far higher level, the club were on the brink of going bust with about £200,000 of debt. The squad were told that they wouldn’t be paid any longer. It seemed as if more than 100 years of history could come to end.
But Dowell’s rescue act turned him into a local hero and home attendances last season dwarfed those of every other team in Worthing’s league – the Isthmian Premier division three steps below the professional ranks.
When the Covid-19 pandemic wiped football off the map, Worthing were seven points clear and on the verge of promotion. Now their hopes have been shattered, just like those of many other non-league teams dreaming of greater things.
“Why we haven’t been allowed to finish our season like the professional game may be allowed do I just don’t know,” Dowell told Insideworldfootball. “Whenever football is allowed to resume, we could have completed our league in four weeks.
“Everyone at the club has worked so hard. Money, time, effort. Getting promotion to National South would have been the highest the club’s ever been. It’s heartbreaking.”
Given the trauma he suffered as a 17-year-old, when he neck was broken and his spinal cord severed, Dowell realises more than anyone that life is more important than football and understands fully why coronavirus has kicked football into touch.
It’s just the way Worthing and others have been treated that upsets him so much.
“Promotion was my dream and it’s been pulled from under us. I don’t understand how the National League have been allowed to possibly carry on. It’s not just affected us but everyone at our level. There should have been the same rule for all of us together. I don’t know why this has been allowed. Maybe because there’s more money involved higher up.”
“If we are not allowed to win our league, why should Liverpool be allowed to win theirs? And if teams are promoted and relegated higher up the scale, why has a line been drawn at our level when money is even tighter, every penny counts and everyone is living on a shoestring?”
“Our best players thought they were going to play at a higher level. Everything had fallen into place. It was like the perfect storm. Now we are going to have to start all over again.”
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