Steps 3 to 6 to be 'curtailed with immediate effect' by Football Association
For the second consecutive season, leagues at Steps 3 to 6 on the non-league ladder are facing up to the prospect of being declared null and void due to the impact of Covid-19 – subject to approval by the Football Association Council.
It was back in March last year during the first lockdown that the FA took the decision to scrap the 2019/20 campaign, rather than opting to go down the points per game route.
And after discussions with clubs, it would appear the powers that be have recommended the same outcome this time around, despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson announcing earlier this week that lower-level football could return on March 29 as part of Roadmap out of Lockdown.
Unlike last term, a lot less football has been played in 2020/21. Bury Town, for example, in the Pitching In Isthmian League North Division have completed just four league fixtures. The most any side in that division has played is eight, one of which is Bury's neighbours AFC Sudbury.
More games have taken place in the Thurlow Nunn Leagues, yet no team has played more than 14, with a large clutch of clubs still in single figures.
Other major obstacles to a return this season included the uncertainty with regards to supporters being able to attend matches, as well as clubhouses not expected to be permitted to open and be fully operational until May.
The loss of those revenue streams was a major factor in the majority of clubs at Steps 3 and 4 across the country voting against a return to action in early December.
The decision brings those leagues affected in line with the National League North and South, both of which were curtailed earlier this month.
A statement from the FA read: "The FA’s Alliance and Leagues Committees have now considered the large amount of data and information submitted by clubs across the National League System (NLS) Steps 3-6 as part of a survey to gather views on the continuation or conclusion of the 2020-21 league season, in addition to the information set out in the Government’s roadmap this week.
"Submissions were made by 99.1 per cent of clubs at Steps 3 and 4, and 95.8% of clubs at Steps 5 and 6. We would like to thank the clubs for submitting their views and the time taken in providing responses during what we appreciate is an incredibly challenging period for everyone.
"The results of the survey showed that over 76 per cent of all clubs across Steps 3-6 indicated a preference to curtail the 2020-21 league season if it could not be restarted with limited spectator numbers and hospitality before 1 April 2021.
"During this process, taking into account views of clubs and leagues it was decided that extending the 2020-21 league season beyond the end of May 2021 would not be a viable option. This was due to various considerations, including the financial implications for many clubs, player contracts and the extent of the fixture scheduling issues caused by the national lockdown and various postponements which had resulted in there being 81% of matches left to complete for Steps 3 and 4, and 75 per cent at Steps 5 and 6.
"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.
"The Committees will now present their collective recommendations to The FA Council for ratification.
"It has also been decided that subject to FA Council’s decision regarding the curtailment of the season at Steps 3 to 6, both committees will revisit discussions around a potential restructure at Steps 4-6 of the NLS, which was previously agreed and has been on hold since the 2019/20 season. A further update on this will be provided in due course."