Mark Carruthers: More questions than answers as nervous non-league clubs wait to hear fate

The fate of the 2020/21 National League season now lies in the hands of their 66 member clubs as they prepare to vote on a set of resolutions received earlier this week.

Wednesday, 3rd February 2021, 4:10 pm
Mark Carruthers' non-league column.

A number of clubs have taken to social media and released statements confirming how they have decided to vote, and the early signs are that the North and South Divisions could be heading towards a second consecutive season being declared null and void.

The picture in the top tier of non-league football is not as clear although a quick look around social media and club websites would suggest that the National League’s top tier could be played to a conclusion with promotion and relegation to and from League Two being carried out as normal.

However, little has been said of how the current season will continue for clubs below the second tier of the non-league game.

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There was some brief respite for clubs across the Northern Premier League and Ebac Northern League after it was revealed that they would be eligible for grants via the government’s Sports Winter Survival Package.

But what of the on-field action? What happens to a season that has not even reached it halfway stage? What of the FA Vase? What of the various league and county cup competitions?

These are all questions that remain unanswered as all fixtures remain on hold with the strictest lockdown restrictions still in place.

Numerous suggestions have been made by various clubs and outlets over the last two months and on in particular stands out for me.

Ebac Northern League One club Shildon have suggested putting a complete pause on the season and resuming from its current point in August.

In my opinion, given that many clubs still have well over half of their fixtures to play, makes complete sense and works in a number of ones.

First and foremost, the efforts of players, coaches, volunteers and committee members over the first few months of the season will not be scrubbed from the record books.

A look at both the Division One and Two tables shows that some clubs have as many as 28 league games left to play this season.

An August restart would allow for those fixtures to take place at a sensible pace and it would mean that players would not be required to play three or four games a week after such a long lay-off.

The less hectic schedule will also allow the league to have some breathing space if we ensure a difficult winter and the raft of postponements that inevitably comes with one.

The above process would also work well in the Northern Premier League with many clubs – including South Shields and Morpeth Town – having over 30 games left in their schedule for the current season.

County Cups and League Cups would simply be declared null and void and would restart from their usual start point in August and or September.

The same would happen with the FA Vase and FA Trophy, and perhaps the governing body could even look at the possibility of hosting Hebburn Town and Consett’s 2020 Vase Final at the Stadium of Light and St James Park in order to finally complete last year’s competition.

There are always issues to consider with this process, but I believe it provides a practical and sensible solution and allows clubs to build on the progress and hard work we have seen over the first months of the season.

I must be honest and say that I fully expect the current campaign to be declared null and void and we will start a brand-new season in August or at whatever point it is declared safe to do so.

It is the easiest option for the Football Association at this stage in the season and I am sure that is more than enough reason for them to follow that path.

But Shildon deserve credit for at least offering a different, well thought-out option that I believe could work well.

It should, at very least, be seriously considered.

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Tuesday morning brought the sad news that Newcastle Benfield chairman Dave Robson had passed away after a short illness.

Anyone that has ever visited Sam Smith’s Park, or many other Northern League grounds, will be all too aware of the passion that Dave had for football, for the North East game and for his beloved Benfield.

There have been many words and phrases used on social media as the non-league family reacted to his passing throughout the last 24 hours - but the phrase used more than any other was seeing him described as a “true football man”.

That truly summed him up.

He loved the game, he loved being part of it and he loved playing a key role in the club close to his heart.

In the aftermath of the sad passing of former chairman Jimmy Rowe, Dave and a whole host of other figures at Benfield helped steady the ship and kept the club moving forwards over the last 18 months.

A visit to Sam Smith’s Park could not go by without a long conversation with Dave on Benfield’s on-field progress or the numerous developments away from the pitch.

Now, a visit to Sam Smith’s Park will no longer be the same without him.

My thoughts and condolences go to his friends, family, loved ones and to everyone at Newcastle Benfield.