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Ebbsfleet United chief executive Damian Irvine wants better communication from football authorities

Communication from the football authorities has to improve, according to Ebbsfleet chief executive Damian Irvine.

It’s already been a summer of change with the FA scrapping replays in the FA Cup proper and the National League setting up a competition with Premier League clubs’ under-21 sides.

Ebbsfleet United chief executive Damian Irvine. Picture: Ed Miller/EUFC
Ebbsfleet United chief executive Damian Irvine. Picture: Ed Miller/EUFC

Both changes were leaked in the national media before the clubs were informed.

“The problem is and it’s the same with the FA Cup replays, the National League and the Premier League and the FA will all agree as we’ve put it on them at meetings, the consultation and communication around these decisions is horrendous,” said Mr Irvine.

“Clubs find out late, and supporters are even later, we get leaks in the press to find out these things. The FA Cup replays is an example, this new competition.

“Whatever merit is in these competitions, whatever good reasons there are for doing them, have been so poorly communicated that there’s been no messaging around it.

“It’s very hard for supporters to be excited about something they know nothing about.

“That’s certainly something the FA and the National League and the Premier League would agree they need to do much better with.”

The National League competition will be similar to the EFL Trophy as Premier League sides look to expose their emerging youngsters to competitive football.

The top 16 from last season’s National League will compete, with relegated Sutton and Forest Green replacing promoted Chesterfield and Bromley.

That means there’s no room for the Fleet, who can look on from afar before deciding how the land lies.

“I’m glad we get a year to determine whether we’re in favour or not,” said Mr Irvine.

“We haven’t been asked, it’s not a vote so whether a club is in favour or not is not really relevant. We don’t have a vote in it so if the competition says we have to play in this, we have to play in it.

“If that’s the case and our hands are tied, then we play with the best spirit and efforts we can as we do in all competitions. We came back at 4am to play a game in the Kent Senior Cup we didn’t really want to be part of but we gave it our best shot and put a team out which still included some first teamers and we did our very best.

“That’s what you have to do with any competition you are in and if you do it the right way over time, your luck is rewarded.”

On the new competition, Mr Irvine said: “Clubs were only made aware of this on Wednesday (May 1). Obviously, news came out in the press over the weekend before, clubs had a meeting and we were told there’s been discussions ongoing for some time.

“It’s definitely not a reaction to the FA Cup replays, and what we were told - and we’ve got no reason to disbelieve it - is this has been discussed for 12 months with the Premier League. It’s all around a larger and wider, and further funding model change for the pyramid.

“It’s an odd one for us as we won’t be involved next year anyway, as we so carefully managed to stay up by one place so we could avoid it! I’ll have to be totally honest and think that will help us next year. It would have been a distraction I don’t think we would have enjoyed given what we want to achieve next year.

“It’s three over-21s as over-aged players and an over-aged goalkeeper, the Premier League are pushing this as a Development League. They see the merit of players who are future Premier League stars, and mostly they’re trying to develop them, but they see the gap between under-21s football and men’s football as too big.

“We’ve seen the advancement of Bryant Bilongo and Tommy Fogarty as an example, and they want to try and replicate that as much as they can and play against sides like us in the National League. I see the reasons why they’re doing it but I don’t think there’s a lot of hunger from our supporter base or from supporters generally for this competition.

“As it works out we’re quite lucky that in the first year we’ll be sitting out and watching from the sidelines how it pans out. The first year won’t be a test year but a learning year in terms of how it goes.”

Mr Irvine admitted that the Fleet could have welcomed the extra games at the start of last season, when they had a big squad with few injuries.

But that wasn’t the case later on in the campaign when injuries started to have an impact, and the club dropped down the league table.

“Football is so fickle that if you’d have told us in September of last year, having a squad of nine fit players who couldn’t get in the squad, that we could have games on a Tuesday night against Premier League clubs’ under-21s, we probably would have snapped your hand off to have those fixtures at that time,” he said.

“If you’re out early in the FA Cup and FA Trophy, you can’t really fit in friendlies so how do you get games played. That’s why in the Kent Senior Cup we played a lot of first-team players at times.

“It all depends on your squad and how you’re going each year as to whether you want those fixtures.”

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