COMMENT: The huge questions the non-league football authorities must answer in the coming weeks ...
The footballing authorities are likely to face some very difficult decisions in the coming weeks and months regarding the 2020/21 non-league campaign.
After the controversy caused by the FA null and voiding steps 3-6 last season, it is believed the governing body are very much against a second null and voiding, and leagues likewise.
One chairman said it would show an ‘abdication of responsibility, a reward for mediocrity and a demonstrable lack of fighting spirit and backbone’ if there was another null and voiding.’
The Southern League has told its clubs they are keen to ensure promotion and relegation is retained after it was scrapped in 2019/20 with the season two-thirds of the way through.
And therein lies the rub.
This season, clubs have played far fewer games. Some, like Moneyfields, have only played four in 14 weeks.
If 2019/20 deserved to be settled via a points-per-game basis - and I believe it did - then 2020/21 should be scrapped as so few matches have taken place.
There are already calls for the Wessex League season to be binned, rather than suspended until January 18 at present. But if it is, then how do you bring the campaign to a natural close?
PPG is the obvious answer. It should have been brought in last season, as clubs had played enough games.
Not everyone would have liked it, but you’re never going to please everyone and it would have rewarded the successful teams and punished the least successful ones.
That’s how football works, doesn’t it?
This season, though, is totally different.
In 2019/20, Wessex Premier leaders Alresford had played 78.9 per cent of their league games when the season was cancelled. Division 1 table-toppers US Portsmouth had completed 77.7 per cent of their games.
This season, the figures are 36.8 per cent (Premier leaders Hamworthy) and 38.8 per cent (Division 1 leaders Laverstock & Ford).
Having not promoted clubs last season having played a far bigger percentage of games, how could you promote them in 2020/21 having played far, far fewer?
That is a question the authorities have to wrestle with.
If the Wessex Premier was scrapped now and a PPG methodology used, Hamworthy would not win the title - second-placed Lymington Town have a better PPG ratio.
Down in Division 1, Laverstock would still finish top. Four clubs are due to be promoted from the second tier and, at present, US Portsmouth have the fourth best PPG record.
Could it be that having NOT been promoted after playing 77.7 per cent of their games last term, USP WILL be promoted having played just 27.7 per cent of this season’s?
Who knows? Conceivably yes, but it’s all a guessing game at present.
Similar situations will happen all over the country. In the Hampshire Premier League last season, Infinity were top after 24 games (out of 30) when 2019/20 was scrapped. Due to the Wessex being cancelled, there was no promotion from the HPL.
This season, if there were no further games (the campaign was paused last week, with a review in early January) fifth-placed Paulsgrove would be declared champions on a PPG basis.
But Bush Hill, who have the second best ratio, would take the automatic promotion place as Grove have not applied to go up due to their facilities not being up to Wesex standard.
As always, opinion will be divided whatever decision the authorities make.
While Horndean boss Michael Birmingham would be happy for a second null and void, others will think differently.
Such as Biggleswade United chairman Guillem Balague, whose club are currently top of the Spartan South Midlands League Premier - the same level as the Wessex Premier.
‘We will be doing everything we possibly can to ensure this season does not end up being declared null and void,’ he said.
‘To do that would be an abdication of responsibility, a reward for mediocrity and a demonstrable lack of fighting spirit and backbone.
‘We and many other sides in our league have battled too hard - both on and off the pitch - to simply allow the efforts of everyone to be thrown away.’
There has to be some joined-up thinking put in place.
Last weekend, there were six matches played across the three Northern Premier League divisions at step 3 and 4 level.
The NPL has therefore resumed while the Southern League and the Isthmian Leagues - at the same level - remain paused.
If the NPL is finished and the Southern League scrapped, how does that affect promotion and relegation?
But then why shouldn’t leagues in areas with lower infection rates be allowed to carry on playing?
Questions, questions, questions.
And at the moment, no answers. Clubs want clarity, but none appears forthcoming.
How many more weeks will go by without any football in the Southern League, the Wessex League and the Hamspshire League before we get any?