Published: 10:00, 11 May 2021
| Updated: 10:56, 11 May 2021
Ebbsfleet United’s attempts to reclaim a place in the National League appear to have failed.
The top tier of non-league football will be a team short next season, running with 23 clubs, and Fleet felt that they were prime candidates to make up the numbers.
Fleet have revealed how they tried to convince the footballing authorities that they should be returned to the level that they were removed from in the 2019/20 season, narrowly relegated on points per game average.
Their relegation was reluctantly accepted at the time by the club, calling off a legal challenge last summer, but their hopes of fighting for promotion this season (2020/21) were ended when the campaign was declared null and void.
Efforts to restart the season with a combined National League North and South division were thrown out, leaving Fleet spending the last few months playing friendlies to keep their squad fit and healthy.
Behind the scenes the club had been busy trying to win their place back at step one, saying: “We made representations to the League and FA Alliance Committee to have rule 5.5.2 of the FA laws applied.
“Given the unique circumstances that led to our relegation last season, and us being one of only two clubs in the UK pyramid to be dropped into a relegation position by points per game, we felt application of the rule under the laws was not only fair, but entirely reasonable.”
That rule started that where a vacancy exists in Step 1 (the National League) then the highest-ranked relegated team of the previous season is to fill that vacancy. Fleet felt on that basis they had a legitimate argument.
Their statement said: “We felt it reasonable and were confident that the FA Alliance Committee would enable that rule and bring Step 1 to its full complement of 24 teams for next season.
“Unfortunately a number of emergency rule changes were made during the last season due to the pandemic; one of those was a change which altered rule 5.5.2. The wording was changed so that any vacancy that existed would be filled at the absolute discretion of the FA Alliance Committee and FA Council.
“We put forward our case that given the circumstances and nature of our relegation, that despite the rule not being “hard and fast” for this season due to the amendments, it stands to reason that the spirit of the rule could and should still be applied at the discretion of the committee.
“Alas we were recently informed that despite their understanding and the strong case that we presented, the FA Alliance Committee would be recommending to the FA Council that the number of clubs for Steps 1 and 2 remain as they are for next season. The feedback we had was that by filling a vacancy at Step 1, a precedent would be set for filling vacancies at Step 2 and below, and given the lack of completed seasons at those levels it would be a difficult task in identifying which clubs were most deserving of filling those vacancies.
“We countered that whilst we appreciated and understood that position, as we were one of only three clubs relegated in the entire pyramid below the EFL last season and no relegation was effected from Steps 2 or below, that we would hope our colleagues at other clubs through the pyramid would have understood and supported the vacancy at Step 1 being filled under the rules.
“Despite our best endeavours we have once again fallen on the wrong side of a considered decision that had to be made for the entire pyramid. We appreciate the consideration and the very difficult task the League and FA have in pleasing everyone during these unprecedented disruptions and conditions that the pandemic has created, but we are so disappointed for our staff, players and most of all our supporters. They have accepted that one or two clubs had to be extremely unlucky last season to please the majority when finalising leagues but we are incredibly disappointed that we have not been able convince the FA Alliance Committee of the merit and inherent fairness of using the rules at hand to fill an obvious vacancy in the National League with the highest-ranked relegated club.
“Our final finishing position in a full season was third last on Points Per Game in the National League/Step 1 in 2019/20 and unfortunately we have not had the chance to win or fight our way to promotion in a null and void league in 2020/21. Emergency temporary rules have made obsolete the mandated method of filling the existing vacancy at Step 1 that would rightfully be ours under the rules as they stand in any other year.
“Unless a substantial change of mind occurs at League or FA level in the next few weeks, we will focus on working hard on our campaign to return to Step 1 as soon as possible beginning next season.”