Fans have their say on future
Fans have their say on future

After the National League announced that the clubs in the South have voted to end their season, we’ve been talking to fans from the League, as well as the Isthmian League and SCEFL for their opinions on what should happen next…

The National League clubs have voted to continue their top division even though a third of the clubs have voted not to continue – that number includes Andy Hessenthaler’s Dover Athletic – throwing that competition into even more uncertainty.

We’d like to thank Gary (a Dartford fan), Rich (a Cray Valley fan) and Simon (who’s a Chatham Town fan) for contributing, and we talked about the same points with some differing opinions…

Firstly, we asked how regularly they watch their teams. Gary told us, “in normal times, I go home and away. Before all of this, I’d missed one game in seventeen years!” Rich meanwhile follows Valley home and away and the last game he saw was between Kevin Watson’s side and Corinthian Casuals in the London Senior Cup in early December. Simon too follows Chatham throughout SCEFL, although he confessed that at his last game – the Vase game against Flackwell Heath in December – he felt uncomfortable. “I didn’t feel comfortable that the game was played to be honest. It made no sense that league games were suspended, and Vase and Trophy games continued, but that is typical of the FA’s cockeyed approach to governance,” he told us.

We then took our three supporters back to the start of the season and asked if they’d agreed with their respective Leagues starting. “At the time, I was very happy about the league season starting,” Gary admitted. “Things did not look as bleak in September and October as they have done the last few months, and with the proper financial funding put in place to ensure that things continued, I do think the league season should have started.”

Rich was more direct and just replied, “No!” he said, “The 2020/21 season should never have started at any levels without weekly COVID testing! To then have the National League change from granting their clubs money to telling them that any more money would be loans, stinks of poor mis-management from the League.” Simon was in full agreement, and even went further as he told us, “in all honesty I think all non-league football should have been suspended when infection rates were rising rapidly.” 

Of our fans, its only Gary’s Dartford who received funds to start, although there are even questions now coming from Darts fans asking if their season should continue. “I suspect if the clubs knew then what they know now, the picture in October may have looked a bit different and the season may not have started,” he told us. “If it was made clear that grants would be in place until fans could return, and this has now been reneged on, it is shameful, but I suspect the answer lies in the details!”

Both Simon and Rich both conceded that they felt that the Isthmian and SCEFL seasons are now over, although Gary was more optimistic for the National South – “I hoped that it would finish if at all possible, even if it meant the season gets pushed back until August and a shortened season (no midweek matches, weeks off etc) takes place.” He did though agree with his fellow fans adding, “The situation that the National League has found itself in is a worrying one as it seems the togetherness and trust has been eroded in the partnership between League and Clubs going forward.”

“I think the whole situation that we find ourselves in has been a disaster from the very start. The National League, in particular, continued playing matches after every other league had been suspended in March 2020. The journey to reaching a decision to play the play-offs last summer seemed to take an age with twists, turns and more U-turn’s and then even the point of reaching a funding decision went to the eleventh hour. I appreciate that there is a chain of command, but I think those in the Football Association and the Leagues have let themselves down largely in, at very least, the speed of making the decisions required.”

The others agreed – Simon said, “The FA have consistently shown themselves lacking leadership. It’s tough to place too much blame on League officials when they have not been backed sufficiently by their governing body. I believe the FA are only really interested in top level football, and not fit for purpose to govern non-league football.”

Rich too was unhappy with the authorities. “I said earlier that I thought there was mis management, particularly in the National League. The game’s governing body should have made a decision at the outset but no – they were just focussed on getting the FA Cup and Trophy/Vase played,” before adding, “null and void (the season) with all Clubs suitably recompensed for any lost revenue…”

We appreciate that these are just the views of three different supporters from three levels of our game, but it does highlight the growing despair that supporters are feeling that it will be next season before any of us can enjoy a proper matchday again!

Picture supplied by Keith Gillard.