Non-league latest: reaction to proposed league resumption, and new funding announced by government

PUBLISHED: 13:21 19 November 2020 | UPDATED: 16:26 23 November 2020

Carlos Edwards in action during Bury Town's last outing before lockdown, a 2-2 draw against Romford. Bury hope to resume action as early as December 5. Picture: NEIL DADY

Carlos Edwards in action during Bury Town's last outing before lockdown, a 2-2 draw against Romford. Bury hope to resume action as early as December 5. Picture: NEIL DADY

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Football writer Carl Marston assesses the latest go-ahead for ‘non-elite’ non-league after lockdown2 is ended on December 2

Bury Town fans supporting their team away from home, in the FA Cup at Banbury United last month. Picture: CARL MARSTONBury Town fans supporting their team away from home, in the FA Cup at Banbury United last month. Picture: CARL MARSTON

The government has announced that non-elite non-league football can be resumed, in front of crowds, when the lockdown2 comes to an end on December 2.

Prime minister Boris Johnson also revealed this afternoon (Monday) that spectators will be allowed back at all outdoor sporting events, in areas up to Tier 2 in the tiered system that will replaces the national lockdown.

That means restricted numbers of fans will be allowed into stadiums to watch Premier League, EFL League and National League clubs (Steps 1 and 2 of non-league), in tiers one and two, with a 50% capacity or maximum 4,000 fans in area tier one (whichever is lowest) and a 50% capacity or up to 2,000 fans in tier two.

‘Non-elite’ and grassroots leagues up and down the country had already made separate announcements with regards their plans of when to resume football, when the go-ahead was given by the government to proceed.

Midfield action Felixstowe & Walton United and AFC Sudbury in the Suffolk derby earlier this season. Picture; DAVE FRANCISMidfield action Felixstowe & Walton United and AFC Sudbury in the Suffolk derby earlier this season. Picture; DAVE FRANCIS

Here is a recap:

Southern League: planned start of Saturday, December 12

Isthmian League: planned start of Saturday, December 19

AFC Sudbury manager Mark Morsley. Picture: PAUL VOLLERAFC Sudbury manager Mark Morsley. Picture: PAUL VOLLER

Thurlow Nunn League: planned start of Saturday, December 5

Suffolk & Ipswich League: planned start of Saturday, December 5

FA Vase ties: Saturday, December 5

FA Trophy ties: Tuesday, December 8

On the offensive: Armani Shaar attacks down the right for Felixstowe & Walton United. Picture: KALEIGH HALLSOn the offensive: Armani Shaar attacks down the right for Felixstowe & Walton United. Picture: KALEIGH HALLS

As stated earlier in the month, the Suffolk trio of Bury Town, Felixstowe & Walton United and AFC Sudbury are all hoping to start their seasons sooner than the suggested December 19 date, set by the Isthmian League.

They insisted that if the government allowed non-league football, from Step 3 below, to resume with crowds allowed to attend (which has been announced today), then all three would be intending to get back into action quickly, before December 19.

The Southern League, which features the Suffolk trio of Needham Market, Leiston, and Lowestoft, revealed that they aimed to restart fixtures on December 12, although games can be played before that day.

Meanwhile, earlier in the month, the government released news of a £28 million funding package to be made available for non-league and women’s football.

A total of £11 million will go to the National League (Steps 1 and 2), with £14 million given to Steps 3 to 6, and £3 million to the Women’s Super League and FA Women’s Championship.

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As regards the Isthmian League, Bury Town have only played four games to date, in the North Division, due to fine runs in the FA Cup and FA Trophy, and so would favour a rapid Saturday, December 5 start, while Sudbury and Felixstowe would both like to be playing league fixtures by the following Saturday, December 12, a week before the Isthmian League’s own suggested start date.

Bury chairman Russell Ward said: “My first thoughts are that December 19 is getting very close to Christmas.

“I just think the more games we can get in quickly, the better, because the extended date to finish the season of May 22 does not appeal to me.

“Pitches need to be prepared for the following season, and that date would barely give us eight weeks to get up and running for the pre-season friendlies, which bring in some good revenue for the club.

“The League have given the proviso for clubs to start at an earlier date, and as it stands we have Coggeshall Town away on December 5 and Histon at home on December 12.

“We will be speaking to both clubs about the possibility of playing these games,” added Blues chairman Ward.

Meanwhile, AFC Sudbury boss Mark Morsley is highly critical of the Isthmian League’s new guideline for resuming the season.

“I think the Isthmian League have fudged it, yet again,” insisted Morsley.

“They have lacked the foresight of the Thurlow Nunn League, who have given clubs the option to play a friendly or start their league games on December 5.

“I was full of praise for the Thurlow Nunn League, when they came out with that decision.

“We ourselves have organised a friendly against one of their clubs, Brantham Athletic, for that December 5 date.

“I think the Isthmian League are out of touch. What they should have done is given the clubs the option to train or stage a friendly on the 5th, and then have a couple more training sessions before all starting on December 12. I know the League has made a proviso that you can start earlier, but it shouldn’t be down to the individual clubs to have to do that.

“We have already lost a month of football, and now that’s been extended by another two to six weeks.

“All you need is the same amount of rain as last season and you’re suddenly into Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday for the rest of the season,” added Morsley.

AFC Sudbury will hope to resume their Isthmian League North campaign on December 12.

They are due to be away at Cambridge City that day, although they have also contacted Bury Town with regards the possibility of playing against their Suffolk rivals in a rearranged fixture.

Over at Dellwood Avenue, Felixstowe & Walton United manager Stuart Boardley said: “A lot of the various leagues contacted their clubs for feedback, but we never heard anything from the Isthmian League.

“They have allowed some flexibility in that date (December 19), and I’m sure most clubs will be keen to start on December 12, which we hope to do.

“We are down to play away at Romford that day. The previous Saturday, we are looking at a friendly against Leiston,” added Boardley.

Meanwhile, with the go-ahead given for ‘non-elite’ football to resume next month, the Southern League will plan to resume on December 12 when Needham Market are set to play away at bottom club Barwell, Leiston at home to Stourbridge, and Lowestoft away at Bromsgrove Sporting, all in the Premier Central.

Before then, Needham will resume competitive action when they entertain Leiston in an FA Trophy first round tie on Tuesday, December 8. On the same evening and in the same competition, Lowestoft are at home to Cheshunt, and Felixstowe & Walton are away at Leatherhead.

The new date for FA Vase second round ties, on Saturday, December 5, will see Stowmarket Town return to action at home to Eynesbury Rovers, while Woodbridge Town will be away at Wellingborough Town and Walsham Le Willows will be on the road at North Greenford United on the same day.

Kirkley & Pakefield will be away at Gorleston, and Mildenhall Town at home to Leighton Town, all in the FA Vase on Saturday week.

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