Matt Maher: FA has much to sort after more misery for clubs in non-league

The outcome might not have been the one they wanted but at least Kidderminster Harriers finally know where they stand.

AFC Telford United and Kidderminster Harriers last played one another in August last year – they were due to face each other again in late March, just days before the National League North season was declared null and void.
AFC Telford United and Kidderminster Harriers last played one another in August last year – they were due to face each other again in late March, just days before the National League North season was declared null and void.

After weeks of uncertainty, their season is now definitely over after the FA rejected proposals for a mini-league involving the 19 clubs in National Leagues North and South who remained eager to continue the campaign.

Harriers pledged their support to the plan knowing it was a long shot but willing to give it a try if it meant avoiding a second straight season being consigned to the scrapheap.

Instead, for the second year running, the National League North season has been curtailed, the difference this time there will be no promotion with the campaign barely a quarter completed. Last year the play-offs did take place, albeit in the summer after a three-month break from the start of the pandemic. The current season, by contrast, has been effectively wiped from history.

That is the same fate which befell every division in non-league football below the National League last term. The decision to declare them null and void before the end of March sparked fury, with some clubs denied promotion despite having already mathematically achieved it.

Yet in another indication of how contradictory and muddled the FA’s governance of the non-league has been during the pandemic, those same divisions may this year actually see promotion and relegation despite the 2020-21 season having been considerably shorter than the one which preceded it. That is because of a wide-ranging restructure of the non-league pyramid, originally due to take place in 2020, which the authorities are understandably reluctant to delay for another 12 months.

To many, a club winning promotion after playing barely a quarter of their fixtures will seem ludicrous. But in non-league, where staying up can sometimes cripple clubs with insufficient resources, it may be the best option for the long-term. The intended restructure has long been needed.

A similar policy might also be appropriate at those levels of the women’s game which have again been halted. Wolves Women might have only played six matches this season but they won them all. After winning 20 of their last 21 in the Midlands Division, there seems little logic in making them play another season at that level. Their rivals would no doubt agree and though it might be unorthodox, so are the times.

After a year of hoping the storm would pass, creative solutions may serve the FA best.

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