We now know the fixtures for the 2021/22 Non-League season which we hope can be started on time and finished in full.
There have been some significant events already in shaping what is to come. The F.A. published the much anticipated restructure of the Non League game below Step 2 to move towards a nearly full pyramid shape for league promotion and relegation. It has meant teams moving up levels and redistributing teams latterally into what is hoped to be more regionalised leagues that reduce travelling and create more local derbies. The Non League Football Paper has published some good graphical accounts of what has happened and reported on some subsequent appeals by teams who felt their new League area was detrimental to their long term existence. These have been reviewed and in some areas reversed e.g. Kings Langley had been moved to the Southern League Midlands but have been subsequently placed in the Southern section where they will have more local challenges.
So here we go into a new world of new and changed leagues that starts this weekend, I can’t wait.
On Saturday I watched the last 16 round of the FA Vase online between Warrington Rylands and West Aukland. Not very remarkable you will say but for me in two ways.
Firstly because this game should not have been taking place because West Aukland had been comprehensively beaten and eliminated from the competition by North Ferriby in the previous round 4-0. However an administrative error by the North Ferriby team that had failed to register a sending off of one of their players in December meant he should have not played in the tie. So the FA took sanction on North Ferriby and it was West Aukland who were reinstated to play Rylands.
The game was however dull and did not live up to what it should have been. Rylands were by far the better team while West Aukland seemed almost embarrassed to be there. Perhaps they were not prepared only finding out in midweek that they were playing. Rylands took the lead but a scrappy equaliser brought West Aukland level but at the end of the 90 minutes they had nothing to offer against Rylands perfect penalties. North Ferriby must be licking their wounds as they would definitely have been sterner opposition.
Rylands have now beaten two teams in a row from the North East on penalties and fate has now paired them at home against another, Hebburn Town, in the quarter finals.
The second reason for the tie being remarkable for me is that although not a supporter of either team I was able to watch the tie. I hope that the streaming of games will continue post Covid.
With a lack of local football to watch I have turned to the weekly (Sundays) Non League Football Paper for some of my fix but they too are struggling to keep a broad range of interest. They only have the National League and the final rounnds of the Vase and Trophy to repoprt on, some intersting pen pics of clubs and players and a League Table section that gets more aged by the week.
Last weeks issue 18th April 2021 there was a very good full analysis of the FA restructuring of the pyramid system which is now going ahead for the 2021/22 season. Over 220 clubs will move sideways or upwards and as well as the changes there will also be a need for extra upward moves to plug the holes left by those teams who have folded. With cosultation and applications it will take to at least May17th for the final positions to be confirmed which seems a long time and again not giving some teams time to recruit players to their new level and ensure they have the ground, administration and finances in place for the new horizon.
We shouldn’t despair of the Paper though as they are trying hard to keep interest going and are in my view doing a fine job despite the situation. To have kept going since 1999 they must be doing some thing good.
There is also an on line version you can subscribe to but it feels great to be able to have a paper format for £1.50 after spending too much time trawling the internet for news and sport.
The most recent reference to any circulation figures I can find was an internet comment by ‘The Telegraph’ on 28th May 2019 that said “With a cumulative monthly circulation of more than 80000, the NLP is Britain’s biggest-selling sports publication.”
During normal times my favourite part of the paper is the two pages showing the lower league tables where you can contrast and compare how all of those locally strange named teams you have visited are doing over two facing pages, without having to keep going into one league at a time on the internet.
At Non-League level below the National League we have now lost two seasons to the Covid pandemic, nevertheless it looks hopeful that there will be a proper start to the 2021/22 season with a full pre season.
However we need some very positive trends to ensure future success rather than looking backwards to what has gone before which as a country we are too good at. If there were Olympic medals for ‘Nostalgia’ we would win gold, silver and bronze.
It’s time to sweep away our reticence and urge the F.A. to complete their pyramid restructure tomorrow and let all the new leagues issue their fixture lists and give hope and interest to players, officials and fans to have something to really look forward to.
Plans could then be made on budgets and new innovative ideas shared and enacted by clubs to make the 2021/22 season one to remember and lay foundations for a renaissance of grass roots football.
Some clubs have unfortunstely not been able to weather the storm. For rxsmple in July, FC Oswestry Town announced they would be withdrawing from the North West Counties League and folding and In August, Droylsden FC resigned from the Northern Premier League.
On the flipside to this disappointing news there have been some major stadium updates or new stsdiums that will see their first games at the restart e.g. Wimborne Town , Staveley Miners Welfare and Boston United. They all incorporate 3g pitches for a wider community use and extra income generation. Boston’s new stand incorporates a climbing wall and a dance studio. What is needed is for local authorities to be more flexible in planning to allow club moves to new grounds but only when it is for the benefit of the community and not property developers.
Along with the restructure The F.A. should be arranging video forums for clubs to exchange ideas to encourage attendance and generate income, let’s not just keep ideas to oneself.
For example I attended a ground where the ‘gateman’ turned to his mate and said ” another ‘xxxx’ groundhopper”. This was so insulting and disappointing when on a visit to another ground a chat with an official said they had on average 10 groundhoppers per game who spent £10 each. This equated to £4000 per year. Why not encourage more groundhoppers and away supporters with a card (£5 each) for each league e.g. the United Counties League that they could get stamped on a visit to a stadium.
Why can’t teams in a region work together to promote each others games and have staggered kick off times to allow people to attend two games in a day. Take Sheffield for example:
Sheffield FC Northern Premier League Division One South East.
Hallam FC Northern Counties East League Division One
Handsworth FC Northern Counties East League Premier Division
Dronfield Town FC Northern Counties East League Division One
Stocksbridge Park Steels FC: Northern Premier League Premier Division
Yes there is great rivalry but working together they could achieve more. Perhaps Sheffield United and Wednesday could work with them as well they may find that they have a budding star on their doorstep. This is quite pertinant when looking at current Premier League players having had experience in the lower Leagues, Jamie Vardy at Stocksbridge, Tyrone Mings at Bath and Ollie Watkins at Weston Super Mare, just three examples. There are also nearby teams in Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster who could be involved too.
The new ‘Hope’ should take into account all interests children, youths, seniors’ female and male to create an inclusive culture that will generate the income that is needed for a continuing development.
Just a rant as I reflected on an Easter break devoid of local football
With the F.A. expunging the results of most. Non League games and resulting League Tables I have a dilemma as to what to do for my 2020/21 season Chip League. Being a non conformist I have decided to call it a day but declare a winner contrary to F.A. guidelines.
This may not be fair for Shirebrook Town F.C the previous winners in 2018/19 and 19/20 as I was unable to give them a chance to retain their crown. The ladies at Shirebrook had promised me home peeled, cut and cooked chips for this season!
With only 9 grounds visited my football has been substituted with online matches and I had contemplated eating different branded oven chips to review and score while watching each match. This fell by the wayside and would only have added to the weight I have put on during Lockdowns.
This season’s winners are Ilkeston Town who scored an impressive 85 but were closely followed by Hemsworth Miners Welfare on 83 although this ought to be attributed to Nostel Miners Welfare as it was their home game being played at Hemsworth. This means that in the coming season I have great hopes of revisiting the chips at Shirebrook and Ilkeston as previous winners. We live in hope of a positive completed season.
Payonthegate 2020/21 Chip League
Hemsworth Miners Welfare
Northampton Sielby Rangers
N.B. Selby Town and Northampton Sielby Rangers scored nil because they didn’t serve chips.
I have been holding off writing a final epitaph to the 2020/21 Non League season for some time but the news on Friday 12th March that the F.A. have rejected the request and proposal from some National League North and South clubs to finish the season.
This followed the previous vote for the National League to continue but a majority of the two Regional Leagues rejecting that option.
So all Leagues below the step 1 National League have now been curtailed and my chances of being able to see another game this season have been ended.
Some of the lower leagues have been trying to arrange knockout cup competitions should crowds be allowed back into stadiums in maybe May/June and the FA Trophy and Vase competitions should be played to a conclusion behind closed doors.
Disappointment but if most teams survive for next season and the maximum number of people are safe you have to accept the situation.
Hopefully I will be able to visit some new and old grounds at the start of a new season that will be able to run to a conclusion.
Sheffield FC have announced plans to return home to Sheffield after 20 years playing in Derbyshire at their Coach and Horses ground in Dronfield. Their nomadic life looks to be near to an end with a potential final move to a purpose built facility with training ground, heritage centre, club shop and a 4000 seat stadium. The new home will be at the Sheffield Transport Sports Club which fronts the large Meadowhead Roundabout which has seen extensive retail and educational building development in the past few years.
There is one hurdle to overcome and that is the passing of planning permission for housing on their existing ground and extensive car parking area which will soon be before North East Derbyshire District Council which will help finance the move.
Sheffield FC founded in 1857 and recognised by FIFA as the oldest football club in the world have had a nomadic life and were more recently close to moving to Olive Grove in Heeley, Sheffield, a stone’s throw from their original ground which is now the car park for a mega DIY store B&Q, it was also in view of Bramhall Lane home to Sheffield United. They have played all over the city most notably at the greyhound stadium and the athletics track so when they bought their Coach and Horses ground it looked like a final home. The move to Meadowhead will however mean that they will be back within the city boundary very fitting for the home of Football.
Meadowhead is not far from The Coach and Horses and their existing local fans. The club will also move further away from nearby Dronfield Town FC and mean that the main clubs in the city, Hallam, Wednesday, United, Handsworth and Sheffield FC will all be well spaced out. GOOD LUCK with this nationally important venture, I can’t wait to see my first game there.
It’s happened again the football season for Non League clubs looks to have been brought to an abrupt end due to the pandemic.
All eyes were on the votes in the National League as to wether to continue which needed to be cast by the end of February. The League management have declared the result early because enough votes have been cast to give a result. This is before the Governments published road map to recovery due today which may have had some bearing on what would be the best course of action.
National League clubs continued playing with no supporters in the grounds after receiving government grants for a three months period. There are no longer any more grants but loans which the Government says was always the case but many clubs saying this is not how the future would be as communicated by the National League. This has meant a great deal of debate and angst amongst clubs whose articles of association would forbid them from puting their clubs at risk of financial risk. This impasse lead to the votes:
Resolution 1 that each step decides its own future was passed by 46 to 18 votes (National League 21 for 0 against, National League North 16 for 6 against, National League South 9 for 12 against). Resolution 2 that the National League (Step 1 Only) should declare the season null and void, 7 for 13 against. This resolution was defeated meaning the Step 1 National League would continue. Resolution 3 that the National League North & South would declare the season null and void. This resolution was approved by National League North 15 for 7 against and the National League South 9 for 12 against, a combined vote of 24 for and 19 against.
So in essence the National League Step 1 will continue but the national leagues North and South will cease.
However there may be more twists and turns:
18 Step 2 National League Clubs have signed a joint letter to appeal the decission and ask that the League explores ways to continue.
Some step 1 National League clubs have said they will continue playing but with `youth` team players because they have furloughed their senior playing staff. This ruins the integrity of the league results and has little consequence for clubs doing this as there is now no relegation to the step 2 leagues, North & South.
Mutterings from the EFL are saying that they will not need relegation from their Leagues to the National League because they are not having relegation from theirs.
Today , February 22nd 2021 Vacvcines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said “Outdoor sports – tennis, golf, outdoor organised team sports, grassroots football – will be back on 29th March.“
Some club Chairs are stating they may ask for a judical ruling on all that has happened via the courts.
Lower step clubs still haven’t finalised their possition.
In essence what a mess. I feel that it shows that one of my own pet soapbox possitions is vindicated when I feel that the league structure below the EFL should be run by smaller groups that reflect their region and teams. Yes we need a pyramid system but one that is from the ground upwards rather than top down. The move to restructure the League again and increase the power of The Northern Premier League at the expence of the locally run Northern League will only increase the alienation felt by local communities.
Talking to my son recently we were reflecting on the snacks we have had together at football matches. It made me look back all those that have stuck with me.
My first memory of food at a football match takes me back to winter matches in the 1950’s when my Dad and I would visit a news agent/ tobacconist in St Peter’s Street, St Albans on our way to Clarence Park to see St Albans City. He would buy a quarter of winter mixture, stored in a glass jar and shovelled into a paper bag. I am still not convinced that I ever liked them but a sweet was a sweet. The black and white one’s were like humbugs and had a minty/menthol taste but the others were strong in taste of which I am still not sure of. These along with warming exercises seemed to do little to stem the bitter cold of the terraces. For some reason on the internet these are also called Yorkshire mix.
Wagon Wheels and Blue Riband biscuits with stewed tea come to mind on a cold January 10th 1959 for an FA Amateur Cup game between Vauxhall Motors (Luton) and Hendon. Hendon won 3-1 but there were other highlights. My father worked in the canteen at Vauxhall and we went early to prepare food for the game. After eating an amazing Telfers steak and kidney pie my father drove a Bedford CA van with sliding cab doors (I’m sure a feature a lot of delivery drivers would love today) to the match. It was also amazing because my Dad didn’t drive but most of the journey was within the factory grounds and only a short way on the road. The van was carrying tea urns and boxes of Blue Ribands and Wagon wheels.
At the ground a counter was made of bales of hay, those left over from covering pitch areas against the frost. Tea from urns always tasted stewed as it had milk added to it when made. The Wagon Wheel and Blue Riband masked the taste.
The next memorable food that comes to mind was turkey sandwiches at a Tottenham v Chelsea match on December 30th 1961. Staying in North London I attended some Arsenal home games and stood on the the North Bank in my early teens and remembered the joys of Percy Dalton’s roasted peanuts. The peanut seller outside the ground was part of the show shouting ‘Peanuts, roasted peanuts, get your roasted peanuts,’ at the top of his voice. The mess left on the terrace after everyone had eaten them was horrendous and clubs today must be thankful this trend has gone by the wayside. To my surprise some years later a roasted peanut seller turned up at Villa Park and my son and I devoured them but on leaving realised the mess we had made. The seller never returned and I’m sure the fans who sat infront of us were pleased too because they were covered in nut husk dandruff where we had opened them.
Skip forward to the 70’s and like many others I remember the boiled burgers and onions served on a dry bun that was served at most grounds. Thank heavens we have moved on from such appalling food.
November 1975 and an evening game at Northampton saw my first wife collect me from work at Luton and we drove to Northampton. She had cooked burgers and chips at home and wrapped them in to foil and towels so when we ate them they were great.
Into the 80’s and the 1984 FA Cup final between Everton and Watford and I had joined the prawn sandwich brigade at the old Wembley Stadium. I hosted a table for work, eating a meal just prior to the match and watching the game from the box. The experience was downgraded by Watford’s defeat.
For the next nearly 20 years it was home and some away Aston Villa games. Lunch before the game was hot tomato soup from a flask with soft white rolls filled with deli counter luncheon meat, often Billy Bear embossed from Kwik Save. It was the enormous amounts of sweets that my son blames me for inducing a habit that makes him buy sweets at every petrol station he stops at and have contributed to his few extra pounds. At first it was Mars bars that being one of the first in to the standing only Holte End he was able to queue up to buy.
We moved on to Opal fruits, a bag of mis-shapes again from Kwik Save, Liquorice Allsorts, Wine gums and finally became avid M&M consumers, not all at the same match. But occasionally there would be food promotions at the game, Villa were sponsored my Muller for a time and we were all treated to Muller corners or two. The give away I remember best were curry flavoured Twiglets which I think was a new range? Having dashed to to Villa straight from work with no food I had more than one packet, only small ones but totally over faced myself, thank heavens I have never seen the flavour again.
But on evening games if not in a rush we would get a portion of chips and a pea cluster from a chip shop in Duston, Northampton, scrummy. If you have time visiting Villa Park the Villa Chippy on Manor Road is a well priced good quality offer which you will have to queue for and that tells all.
More recently I have given up the sweets and instead had chips at the grounds visited, for research reason only for my chip league.
One interesting experience was a trip to Forest Green which only sells vegan food and I have to say the pie and chips were very good and an introduction to oaty milk was a pleasing surprise.
It was a complete opposite to being invited to Manchester City where the pre match buffet was an amazing spread in sumptuous modern surroundings.
My favourite football foods in the last 3 years have been at the kiosk at Crook Town (Only food and Sauces), the chips at Shirebrook Town (Winners of my chip League two years running), the Chip Bar at FC United (Mr Chips), the display of sauces at Halifax and hot pork pie and mushy peas at Pennistone Church. It’s not just about the football.
I also loved the photo of Chips at a French league ground.
I wrote a post on 28th March last year titled “They think It’s all over” which confirmed that all results for step three football leagues and below were to be expunged and unfortunately we are close to that again 10 months later.
‘The F A have confirmed that all step three and below league results for the 2019/20 season have been expunged. This followed a lot of media quotes from league and club officials who could not see a way to finish the season within time and financial constraints and the ethical position of the need to put all resources and time in fighting the pandemic. This is sad for teams like South Liverpool, Vauxhall Motors, Jersey Bulls, South Shields and others but these are difficult times.‘
With the Covid pandemic sadly still with us causing personal and economic tragedy and a national lockdown until mid February and most probably beyond, or replaced by a tier system, it has meant there has been little or no Non League step 3 and below games since mid December. With fewer than programmed games completed and none planned it looks impossible again to complete the season and all leagues and county associations are contacting clubs for their views although the organisers of the leagues just below the national leagues have stated their position that the season cannot be completed.
Football in general faces lots of issues that will be faced in 2021. Premier league media rights for 2022 to 2025 will be finalised this year and as so thoughtfully discussed by John Nicholson in his book ‘Can we have our football back’, there could be a reduction in bidding. This may well again lead to the super six looking for their own media rights deal or the often floated European League.
If fixtures are again ended and the F.A. do not implement their structural reforms, which should have been in place this season, will those league administrators of Leagues that were to be disbanded who agreed to continue for this season do it again for another year.
Is the public falling out of love with football, televised games are often sterile, the attempt to get extra income from fans to be able to stream their team only created resentment and anger.
Have a new generation been further inveigled by the games industry and not football. Has the game shown the wrong image during the pandemic.
Players have flouted Covid restriction rules, teams have gone away to Dubai, players continue group celebrations and fixtures are disrupted due to Covid outbreaks in squads.
There have been some positives to counter this, Marcus Rashford’s campaigns to counter child poverty a shining example.
The weekends F.A. cup tie round produced some high points, Aston Villa’s Louie Barry grabbing an accomplished equaliser for their youth team against a strong Liverpool before being overwhelmed, Crawley Town’s magnificent 3 nil win over Leeds, Jose Mourinho not devaluing the Cup by puting a very strong team out against the Marine minnows and Chorley defeating a Covid ravaged Derby County.
The big issue though is will all football clubs survive and a recent article by Simon Stone on the BBC Sport website gave an inside view, https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/55575536 We cannot afford to lose a part of our community that ties us together and for many improves general welfare both physically and mentally.
Finally a report from the Derbyshire Times (Chesterfield), about a man being issued a Covid 19 penalty ticket and given a strong warning after being stopped in Lincolnshire and explaining that he had left his house the previous day and was touring football grounds.