Grassroots football given green light for return but non-league clubs still face wait
Grassroots football has been given the green light to return from the end of March – but a number of North East non-league clubs could still face a wait before they return to competitive action.
Prime Minster Boris Johnson outlined his “roadmap” to easing Covid-19 restrictions in the House of Commons before giving a public address just hours later and it was revealed that the return of the grassroots game will resume no earlier than the 29th March.
Supporters are expected to be allowed to return to grounds around the country from the middle of May – but that scenario opens up questions over how the 2020/21 season will be completed for clubs in steps three to seven of the non-league pyramid.
Northern Premier League clubs like South Shields, Morpeth Town, Marske United and Dunston UTS have been without a league fixture since before Christmas and Ebac Northern League clubs have also experienced a similar delay after “non-elite” football was brought to a halt in November.
However, the Northern League committee have suggested that they could look to hold a cup competition throughout April and May if supporters are able to return to grounds around the region and clubhouses and catering facilities are able to open.
In a statement released in January, the league said: “Should the situation improve more quickly than is expected, the league would look to offer some competitive football in the form of a cup competition in April/May to enable clubs to recoup some of the missed income and re-engage with supporters, but this wouldn’t be mandatory and would only be considered if safe to do so.”
The two major cup competitions in non-league football find themselves in very different situations.
The FA Trophy will continue throughout lockdown as it is classed as an elite competition and that means Darlington’s bid to reach the semi-final will continue with this weekend’s quarter-final home tie against Hornchurch.
However, this season’s FA Vase is currently on hold with the competition sitting at its fourth round stage.
Last year’s final between Northern League clubs Consett and Hebburn Town is still yet to be played – although there has been a suggestion that the tie could take place in May as part of a series of test events to allow supporters back into games.