The FA’s decision on Friday to cancel and expunge all football below the National League(s) prompted almost endless comment about the wider ramifications for the future of the game.
When reviewing the full situation, it’s hard to reach any other conclusion than the FA have made a huge, immeasurable, unabated cock-up of the decision.
To be clear, it isn’t necessarily the wrong decision, but the process behind it was an absolute disaster.
What has the FA decided?
On Friday the FA announced that all football below the National League will end immediately and all league results will be expunged. No relegation or promotion will occur between these leagues. The National League, National League North and National League South have not been cancelled and will attempt to reach a conclusion.
In a statement, the FA said: “These are challenging circumstances for English football and all decisions taken are in the best interests of the game”
“Our primary concern will always be for the safety and welfare of clubs, players, staff, officials, volunteers and supporters during this unprecedented time.”
“Today’s steps take into account the financial impact during this uncertain period, whilst considering the fairest method on how the sporting outcomes for the season will be decided, with the integrity of the leagues in mind.”
Different treatment for non-league
It’s perfectly valid to ask why non-league is being treated differently to the professional game in this instance.
In normal circumstances the difference between the amateur game, the semi-pro game and the professional game are all clear and obvious, and there are plenty of reasons why some levels have different requirements. But these are not normal circumstances. Every team in the country has been affected by the outbreak of Covid-19. If a solution can be found for the professional game, there’s no obvious reason why it can’t also be applied to the lower levels.
Player contract values and durations, broadcast deals and the huge differences in revenue aren’t necessarily barriers to a solution that fits all levels of football.
Expunging the season makes sense. Expunging the season isn’t in itself, a terrible decision. What many people object to is the idea that non-league can be treated as some sort of legal guinea pig. If non-league is expunged (and the decision still needs to be ratified by the FA Council so hasn’t technically happened yet) then the Premier League, the EFL and the National League(s) should be expunged too.
Ideally, one would hope that the FA brought all relevant stakeholders to the table to consider a collective solution that works for all levels – but this isn’t what happened. The Premier League, The EFL sit around one table, joined by the PFA, while non-league divisions were left to their own devices until the FA stormed in to deliver an Eric Cantona style kung-fu kick to the face to clubs and divisions who were just waiting for some advice and some answers.
It’s also unclear, to me anyway, who actually made the decision. The FA said: “The decision taken to end the 2019/20 season across Steps 3-7 of the National League System, the women’s football pyramid and the wider grassroots game was made by committee representatives for the respective leagues, and was supported by The FA Board and The FA Women’s Board.”
The FA Board and FA Women’s Board are open enough but “committee representatives”? Which committee? Which representatives? Will we see any minutes from meetings related to the decision?
And if such cast-iron consensus was reached amongst the leagues – why is the BBC now reporting that over 30 clubs are challenging the FA over the decision?
The way forward
There isn’t a “good” solution available to resolve the calendar crisis. PPG causes horrendous issues and remains open to legal challenge. Stopping the leagues and treating current positions as final causes the same problem. Resumption of the season at some point means effectively cancelling 2020/21 or merging the two seasons into one.
But to expunge one level, any level, should be to expunge them all. One can only hope that the FA is trying to build a precedent for future decisions on the Premier League and the EFL. That’s uncomfortable for the likes of Liverpool and Leeds but I’ve yet to hear an argument about why their impending successes are more valuable than say South Shields that don’t relate to either size or money.
I strongly believe that all of the governing bodies have a responsibility to come together and find a common denominator, a solution that works for as many clubs and fans as possible, no matter what level they play in.