‘We didn’t want to go gung-ho – we’ve been conservative and unashamedly so’ – the Mid-Solent League on their post-lockdown restart
The Mid-Solent League are planning for an early April return - having split their 13-team division into two.
The top seven clubs will complete home and away fixtures against each other, while the remaining six teams will do the same for the unofficial ‘Division 2’ title.
The teams will start with the points they accrued from games against their divisional rivals prior to the pausing of grassroots football in mid-December.
For example, leaders Meon Milton will resume with the points they collected against the other top six teams.
Similarly, results against the top seven teams won’t count when the bottom six resume games against each other.
Cowplain will restart their season top of Division 2, even though they have a minus one goal difference from their five games against the other five teams in their section.
It’s a novel concept, but one league officials were happy to adopt in a bid to ensure a competitive finish to the pandemic-scarred 2020/21 campaign.
‘We have been conservative, and unashamedly so,’ said MSL official Robert England
‘I think the most games any club has left is eight, and the fewest is five.
‘We didn’t want to be too gung-ho with the fixtures - we don’t yet know if we’ll be able to restart on April 3.
‘If the data goes the wrong way, we could be back in local lockdown or in tiers again.
‘If we went gung-ho with the fixtures, and say they’ll all be played, we could risk having the season decided by committee again.
‘That was the worst thing about last season, having to decide it by committee rather than by playing football.
‘We thought splitting the division gave us the best chance of completing the season with meaningful and competitive fixtures for everyone.
‘There will be a trophy for the team who wins Division 2 - we want to do this properly.’
League officials discussed packing more fixtures in by including double headers or midweek games.
‘Neither are very popular,’ said England.
‘Playing two games one after the other doesn’t feel right, and midweek games can be problematic with players being available.
‘We didn’t want to go into June because some clubs might be short of players if they want to play cricket or other sports.’
The Mid-Solent League, though, will hold a cup competition if there is enough interest after the league fixtures have been completed.
Ending the 2020/21 league season with two divisions, meanwhile, could be good preparation for the next campaign.
The 21/22 season is expected to feature two divisions from the start due to growing interest in the league.
In 2018/19 there were only 10 teams, and one of those - Blue Anchor - pulled out after the season had finished.
But two new clubs entered last season - Rowner and Cowplain - followed by Mob Albion and East Lodge in 2020/21.
Now Hampshire Premier League club Harvest - last season’s MSL champions - have applied to field a reserve side for 21/22 and Fratton Trades have also applied.
That would take the MSL numbers to 15 with England admitting that officials are also canvassing under-18 clubs currently playing in the Mid-Solent Youth League to see if they want to step up into adult football.
‘Bringing under-18 teams through is a major part of the league’s strategy to improve and grow Saturday football.
‘Ideally, we’d have 16 teams for next season - two divisions of eight teams. But if we got the numbers, two divisions of nine would be great.
‘Bearing in mind we only started with 10 teams, we’re pretty pleased.’
A two-division structure in 21/22 would allow for all the league’s cups to be played - the Billy Hill for Division 1 teams, the Len Day for Division 2 clubs and the Purcell for both divisions.
No cups were held in 2020/21 ‘because of the uncertainty’ surrounding the pandemic. England added: ‘We were proved right not to hold them.’