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Isthmian League and Southern Counties East Football League season declared null and void

The season is officially over for Kent teams playing in the Isthmian League and the Southern Counties East Football League.

For the second season running the football leagues from steps three to six in England have been declared null and void.

Isthmian League side Folkestone up against SCEFL Premier Division leaders Chatham Town in the FA Cup Picture: Barry Goodwin
Isthmian League side Folkestone up against SCEFL Premier Division leaders Chatham Town in the FA Cup Picture: Barry Goodwin

The government’s recent road map out of lockdown would mean that those leagues couldn’t start running again until March 29, leaving little time to complete seasons that had barely started.

Clubs in steps 3-6 were asked about their views on the continuation or conclusion of the 2020-21 league season. The results of the survey showed that over 76% of all clubs indicated a preference to curtail the 2020-21 league season if it could not be restarted with limited spectator numbers and hospitality before April 1, 2021.

It was decided by the FA’s Alliance and Leagues Committees that extending the season beyond the end of May would not be a viable option due to a variety of reasons, including the financial implications for many clubs, player contracts and the extent of the fixture scheduling issues.

The FA's statement said: "Taking into account the survey results and the ongoing impact of Covid-19, which continues to adversely affect incomes for clubs due to restrictions on both spectators and hospitality, The FA’s Alliance and Leagues Committees have reached a consensus that subject to the approval of FA Council, the 2020-21 league season for Steps 3-6 of the NLS should be curtailed with immediate effect, with no further league matches taking place this season."

It will now be down to the FA Council to rubber-stamp that decision.

Isthmian League games haven’t been played since early November while the SCEFL called a halt to games at the end of October.

Step two football - the National League South and North - have already agreed to null and void their season after clubs were asked to vote on the issue. Several teams are, however, pushing for some kind of competition to be played between those clubs that wanted to continue.

Only the top-flight of the non-league pyramid - the National League - will now continue but some of those teams, including Dover Athletic, have stopped, or are planning to stop, because of a shortage of money.

Many clubs are unwilling, or unable, to play without crowds and the money they bring in. Sponsorship and advertisement has also dropped due to the lack of exposure and because of the wider impact of the Covid crisis on businesses.

The Isthmian League, which includes the Premier Division (step three) and Division 1 South East (step four) started their campaigns in mid-September but few have even managed double figures in games played. More was lost when the 2019/20 season was declared null and void.

In the SCEFL, where clubs like Chatham Town and Sheppey United in the Premier Division (step five) had invested big money in a promotion campaign, they are now facing another season at that level. In Division 1 (step six) it’s another blow for the likes of Kennington, unbeaten in their six games and going well for a second season running. They were also top of the pile when the 19/20 season was cut short.

The new season for SCEFL sides is expected to once again start with the extra preliminary round of the FA Cup, which is usually played in early August. The Isthmian League often start later but may be inclined for an earlier start date for the 2021/22 campaign considering the lack of football action in recent months.

One glimmer of hope for teams wishing to claim a place at a higher level is the expected FA restructure of the lower leagues, between steps 4-6, with gaps to fill in many divisions. Any movement considered as a promotion may, however, cause unrest among rival teams fighting for the same cause.

The FA have said discussions over the restructure will take place with updates provided in due course.

Teams could, if they wish, play friendly matches from April onwards, assuming the government are able to stick to the current dates on their road map. It would be down to the FA reaching an agreement with the government over supporter attendance, which many rely on for income. The opening of clubhouses - as a key secondary income - is also important but at present the earliest venues with outdoor facilities can open is on April 12.

Fans at elite matches - those playing at levels from step two (National League South) upwards - won’t be able to attend until mid-May, although there is likely to be some trial matches that take place.

The Kent County League Premier Division, which operates below the SCEFL and is deemed a ‘Feeder League’, is exempt from having their season extended by the FA and it is likely that in due course their campaign will also be declared null and void. The KCL recently admitted hopes of completing the season was “rapidly diminishing” as games at their level cannot be played beyond May 31.

Grassroots football, which includes Saturday and Sunday leagues and youth games, and also the KCL divisions below the Premier, can restart at the end of March and the FA have extended the season until the end of June, should the individual leagues wish to try and complete their seasons.

There may well be an upsurge in people wanting to take part in lower-level football but those players who have been put on furlough by their clubs, and benefiting from the government’s job retention scheme, would have to sit it out until their contracts expire.

Read more on non-league football in Kent

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