Published: 06:00, 07 January 2021
Clubs across the county at Isthmian League and Southern Counties East League level have played only a fraction of their league campaign. Last season their records were made null and void by the FA but what will happen nearly 12 months on? LUKE CAWDELL and CRAIG TUCKER discovered that there is no easy solution.
Plus you can have your say by voting in our poll at the end of the story
Tommy Warrilow feels the season should be written off here and now.
As a football man through and through, it’s the last thing the Ashford boss wants to be saying.
But he believes it’s the only sensible measure available as Covid continues to grip the country.
“I think we should write the season off,” said Warrilow, whose side are 11th in Isthmian South East.
“I don’t want to lose the season but we can’t keep leaving it and saying we’ll review it. How long do you go on doing that?
“We’re into January and we’ve played six league games.
“You’re going to be cramming the games in but, forget that, we haven’t got rid of the reason we’re doing all this.
“It’ll be a year in March since the virus started and it seems to be taking more casualties than it was in the first place.
“It’s madness to be thinking about playing football.
“You might get grants to cover the expense of starting again but you’ve got to make sure it’s safe for players to come back, which it isn’t.
“The last thing you want is to get the boys in and then you have to stop again. You need to make a decision.
“I’m climbing the walls because it’s the first time since I was a 16-year-old boy that I haven’t had football over Christmas and New Year but there’s reasons for it.
“If you want my tuppence worth, I’d say they should put us out of our misery and end the season now.”
Deal manager Derek Hares has mooted the possibility of teams playing each other only once this season.
Hares believes it’s looking increasingly unlikely the Southern Counties East campaign will be completed on schedule as Covid cases spiral out of control.
The proposed January 16 restart date is off and Hares can’t see a return date any time soon. That’s left him pondering a reduced season where teams meet once although he’s not convinced even that would be right.
“I’d like to see the season completed but as time goes on it’s looking more and more unlikely,” said Hares.
“Unless they come up with a scheme where we perhaps play each other once, I don’t know what they can do.
“That would be one way to finish it but I’m not even sure on that really.
“It’s frustrating but the situation health-wise is looking pretty serious. The longer it goes on, the more concerning it is.
“If there was a way you could still have promotion and relegation, that would be great, but I don’t know how you do it.
“We’ve got to make sure people are safe and at the present time it isn’t safe.”
Hares says there is mileage in completing the FA Vase, should Covid ease heading into the spring.
The Hoops are still to play Binfield in round three, with a place in the last 32 at stake.
“There aren’t many rounds left, so I feel you could fit those in,” he added.
Faversham boss James Collins has no interest in a reduced league campaign.
The Lilywhites started the Isthmian South East season with a six-game unbeaten run before the action was suspended.
With no sign of a restart date it’s going to be difficult to get the season finished on time.
But Collins sees no merit in a points-per-game scenario or playing each other once.
“The pessimistic side of me says I can’t see how they’re going to finish the season,” he said.
“We’ve played six league games. It’s looking like null and void again. You can’t do it on points per game after so few games.
“Any team can go six games unbeaten at the start, it doesn’t mean anything.
“At the same time, anyone can have a slow start and still do well. Look at Manchester United. If the Premier League had stopped after six games they’d probably be 17th and now they’re second.
“It’s also not a fair reflection to do it over 18 games. We’ll do as we’re told but I wouldn’t be in favour of that.
“I wouldn’t want to achieve, or not achieve, something in a season that wasn’t done properly.
“For clubs it’s different, if you go up, you go up, but if you’re a manager or player, you want to feel you’ve achieved it the proper way.”
Neil Cugley is willing to take what comes but is open to playing less games if it means they can complete the season.
Easy-going Folkestone Invicta boss Cugley just wants to be back on the sidelines, even if the season is reduced to playing an opposition team just once.
Cugley, who is missing the ups and downs of football, said: “If they said to play everyone once then we wouldn’t be against it, it depends how desperate they are to get back and have relegation and promotion. Is it that important?
“If you played each other once then you wouldn’t have that many to play and you could get them in without going mad.
“We will do whatever. If it means playing twice or three times a week, we will get on with it.”
Invicta sit 10th in the Isthmian League Premier Division, with nine league games played.
Cugley said: “You miss the banter and seeing the fans, even the ones who shout at you. I’ve got a couple of mates who ring me at 3pm on a Saturday to now shout abuse at me, saying I don’t know what I’m doing, so it feels like a normal Saturday!
“Whatever happens, players will have had three months off, we haven’t seen them at all because they are on furlough, we haven’t trained or done anything. It will be the longest break we’ve ever had.
“Can I see us playing (again this season)? It is getting less and less likely.
“I can’t see it going into June because if we have had vaccinations people will be going away on holiday, catching up on weddings and things like that, we have a grass pitch and that is when you do your work isn’t it for next season?
“It is horrible for everyone. You do feel so sorry for those trying so hard to keep it going but in recent weeks common sense prevails over football.”
Whatever happens to the 2020/21 league season isn’t the main concern for Lordswood boss Neil Hunter after witnessing the effects of Covid-19 at close quarters.
The football-mad boss has seen many of his family members suffer with the virus and one of those sadly lose their life. He’s only just come out of a period of isolation himself.
With a niece who works in an intensive care unit and a wife working in a supermarket, nobody needs to tell him the dangers of the virus and for that reason his weekend passion hasn’t seemed so important.
“I have seen it first hand,” said Hunter.
“Unless you are around it, and it has affected you, I think there is a bit of flippancy around it, what you can’t see can’t hurt, but you haven’t got to have symptoms to pass it on and that is the worrying thing.
“I can’t see how this league can start again for the foreseeable future.
“I know some teams played and trained (while the SCEFL and Isthmian League were on hold) but we refused to do it.
“We made a collective decision, none of us were prepared to take a chance on it, some of us were shielding people.
“We have four players and three board members who have all been down with Covid related issues in the last few weeks.
“We know everyone wants to play football, nobody misses it more than me, it is my getaway, but I haven’t given it a second thought.
“As far as football is concerned and what they do with the league, that is out of my control, but I am not putting anyone’s life in any sort of danger over 90 minutes of football.”
The season is over, as far as Sevenoaks players are concerned.
That was their reaction after the prime minister’s lockdown announcement on Monday night.
Oaks enjoyed a flying start in Isthmian South East, sitting fifth after eight games, but there’s an acceptance the campaign won’t restart.
Boss Micky Collins said: “The boys were on the group after the statement saying that’s it, the season’s over, it won’t get finished.
“For me, there’s got to be a massive turnaround to even think about coming back in mid-February.
“Please, God, these numbers drop and we’re in a position for that to happen. Realistically, do I think that will be the case? No, I don’t.
“One of the best things I’ve done in 10 years and 400 games as a manager was to say no when other teams started training and playing friendlies again.
“I didn’t want to be liable for anyone getting ill and taking it back to their families, and we’ve not had one positive test.
“As a club our conscience is clear and we’ve done our bit.
“We had a great chat online and everyone agreed that was the best thing and the safest way to do it.”
Collins would rather write off the season than mothball it.
He said: “I don’t think we’ve played enough games to bother about this season.
“We were in the highest position we’ve ever attained, in the play-off places having lost one game, but I don’t think there’s any point going over old ground.
“Hopefully we can get back for a standard pre-season in July and then start with a clean slate.”
Sittingbourne manager Darren Blackburn admits they don’t have much of a season to save.
The club have only managed to play five of their league matches so far.
Blackburn said: “We’ve lost one season already, we wrote that off but had played a lot more than we have done of this season, so for me, personally, we have played five league games and what season is there to finish?
“As far as I’m concerned we haven’t even started the season yet.
“As a manager of a club that have played just five matches, do I really want this season to carry on again from August, September or whatever, or would it be better to scrap those five games. Do we chase the 33 games or scrap five?
“Those five games were like an extended pre-season for us anyway because we recruited quite late, bringing players like Kane Rowland and Andy Drury, we were probably just coming out of a period of what felt like an extended pre-season with a finalised squad.
“We have spent a bit of money during those weeks so there is money wasted but my view, from Sittingbourne, is that we haven’t really started the season. I would love to see it get going again, I miss my football. But it just feels like we are trying to force this season and make it happen.”
One option to get the season completed, when clubs are allowed to return to action, could be to play each other just once, instead of twice.
But Blackburn warned: “For me, the only way you can play each other once is to start the league again from scratch, whether that be in March or whenever.
“Every manager and player and club is then starting from an even playing field where everyone knows whether they are home or away.”
Tunbridge Wells are in the Southern Counties East Premier Division promotion hunt and their manager Richard Styles would hate to see their hard work go to waste for a second season running.
Styles’ team were sitting fifth with games in hand over those teams above them when the 2019/20 season was scrapped and are once again in the mix. If given a choice of scenarios, playing each team once would be the manager’s first choice, although he remains open-minded.
“It is tough, very tough for the FA and the governing bodies,” said Styles.
“I have heard it mentioned about doing points per game from last season and this season combined, which is an idea, but how fair is that? Players and teams and managers might be different, the whole set up might be.
“Do we play every team once? That could be do-able and that would probably be the way that I would favour to go if I was being brutally honest.
“They null and voided last season, everyone has forgotten about that and moved on. We are now into this season, playing 10-12 games, if it means we play another 10 between now and May then that would probably be the one.
“Another option is to null and void again. Football is a small part of what we are going through but from a personal point of view I would be disappointed with that because that would be two seasons I’ve had at a new club where I have tried to establish foundations, to progress. There has been a lot of time, money and work spent to try and do that, to have two seasons cancelled and to have effectively nothing in history would be disappointing.
“Hopefully there is a resolution but players and clubs and managers are all fearing the worst that there might not be. I know my players are.”
Styles was receptive to putting a pause on this campaign and restarting it in August.
“It could work. It is an option,” he said. “I would be okay with that. It gives clubs and players and managers time to prepare and something to work towards and there would then be less games from August to the end of April as we have already played 10 or so games.”