US Portsmouth chairman: FA were too hasty in cancelling part of the non-league football season

US Portsmouth chairman Rich Stephenson believes the FA were too hasty to declare much of the non-league season null and void.

Wednesday, 8th April 2020, 3:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 8th April 2020, 3:53 pm
US Portsmouth (maroon/blue) were on course to win promotion from Division 1 of the Wessex League for the first time. Picture: Duncan Shepherd

While steps 3-7 were declared null and void a fortnight ago, the Premier League, the EFL and the National League could yet restart - be it in May, June or even July.

Stephenson is asking if those clubs can be allowed to continue their season once the Covid-19 crisis is over, why not some non-league clubs as well?

‘No-one really knows what is going to happen in two weeks, four weeks, four months, do they?’ he said.

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‘The FA could have let it ride and then acted when we got to the end of the actual season (which would have been on April 25).

‘They could have then made another decision. They could have moved the start of next season to the end of August - they might have to do that anyway.

Stephenson has added his club’s name to the 150-plus who have signed a protest letter to the governing body – other Hampshire clubs are Moneyfields, Alresford, Hythe & Dibden and Infinity.

‘I’m not surprised at all that so many clubs have signed the letter,’ he remarked.

‘People just want to make their point - and social media has been a very powerful tool for getting the letter (shared) around.’

US Portsmouth were on course to win promotion to the top flight of the Wessex League for the first time since they entered the league in 2004.

In manager Glenn Turnbull’s first season in charge, they were top of the table with eight games left. More importantly, they were 11 points clear of fifth-placed Downton having played the same amount of games - and the top four clubs were due to go up.

‘It was heart-breaking for us,’ said Stephenson.

‘I’ve been chairman since 2004 and this was the best chance we had of winning promotion.

‘Everybody had worked so hard - it was heart-breaking for the guys, the managers, the sponsors, the whole club.

‘All that work has almost been for nothing.

‘I know you can use the cliches like ‘we’ll come back next season stronger’, but everyone can say that. We do feel hard done by - if the FA had said it was points per game we’d still have gone up.’

Stephenson, like many involved in grassroots sport - football, cricket, hockey and rugby are all affected - is now wondering what the long-term impact might be in terms of sponsorship opportunities.

‘All the money we generate from sponsors might not be there next season,’ he said.

‘Small businesses aren’t generating cash at the moment, so they might not have any to give.

‘That’s why I think some clubs could struggle next season.

‘We don’t pay our players, which I think is a good thing, but we’ve still got costs.

‘It’s about £100 a game for the officials and we’ve still got food and the bar to pay for, so every home game costs over £200.

‘If that money isn’t coming in from sponsors, it’s got to come in from the players being asked to pay to play.’