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Lakenheath manager Ben Cowling unhappy with FA's decision to null and void league season




Lakenheath manager Ben Cowling is bitterly disappointed with the decision to declare all of the leagues from Steps 3 to 7 null and void.

In a statement last Friday, the Football Association announced that all of the results from the 2019/20 campaign were to be expunged, pending ratification from the governing body’s council.

Assuming that motion is passed, it will mean Step 6 Lakenheath will be denied promotion to the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division, having looked well placed to achieve it.

Football action from Diss Town v Lakenheath..Lakenheath manager Ben Cowling..Mark Bullimore Photography 2019. (32731457)
Football action from Diss Town v Lakenheath..Lakenheath manager Ben Cowling..Mark Bullimore Photography 2019. (32731457)

Cowling’s side were second in the First Division North with an eight-point buffer to Fakenham Town outside of the four promotion slots.

The boss accepts that it is tough decision for the FA and that not everyone will be pleased with the outcome, but he feels a points-per-game approach – with only promotions, not relegations – would have been a fairer route to go down.

“It goes without saying that our primary concern is with the health of the country and that non-league football is of minor concern within the present circumstances we find ourselves in,” he said.

22/02/2020, Lakenheath, England. ..Football action from Lakenheath v Debenham LC - Aaron Foreshaw (L) and Baden Holmes (D) ..Photo by Mark Bullimore. (32793447)
22/02/2020, Lakenheath, England. ..Football action from Lakenheath v Debenham LC - Aaron Foreshaw (L) and Baden Holmes (D) ..Photo by Mark Bullimore. (32793447)

“However, in my opinion the FA have rather rushed the decision that has been made and arrived at the worst possible sporting conclusion.

“While I can see the Premier and Football Leagues need to act separately, for me the whole of non-league should have been treated equally, from Step 1 through to Step 7, which isn’t currently the case.

“The amount of time, effort and money clubs had put into eight months of a season has happened and the records should reflect that.

“For me there are lots of unanswered questions with how things have ended: do any current suspensions have to be served at the start of next season? What is the FA Cup qualification policy for next season? Do the FA intend on filling vacancies throughout the pyramid, and if so how?

22/02/2020, Lakenheath, England. ..Football action from Lakenheath v Debenham LC - Shaun Avis (L) and Andrew Crowe (L) ..Photo by Mark Bullimore. (32793444)
22/02/2020, Lakenheath, England. ..Football action from Lakenheath v Debenham LC - Shaun Avis (L) and Andrew Crowe (L) ..Photo by Mark Bullimore. (32793444)

“Also, with regard to the decision-making process itself, there was some consultation with the clubs by the Eastern Counties League chairman who asked for our thoughts and preferred option. This was done before the FA met with the Step 5 and 6 chairmen, however the chairmen were faced with a null and avoid or PPG options only from the FA – these options should have been put to the clubs for a democratic vote.

“No-one at this stage can tell if we will be able to start season 2020/21 in August, nor if we do start thatthat further lockdown and isolation measures won’t be bought back in to stem a potential second wave of the virus. So we seem to be prioritising starting a new season ahead of completing a season that is around 75 per cent complete.

“I would personally have liked the opportunity to finish the season, whenever it was possible, but if the choice was between PPG and null and void I would have much preferred PPG.

“I can understand the argument of clubs that sat in relegation places, and because of that I would have liked to have seen promotions but no relegations from Steps 7 into 4.

“With the re-structuring that would have been possible, with potentially losing the play-offs at Step 4/5. And the FA could have rewarded clubs, anyone who missed out has missed out anyway as the season is null and void at this stage.

“Steps 1 -4 could then have made arrangements between themselves and the Football League, especially with Bury having folded and several clubs in danger of relegation due to their facilities.”

Cowling went on to reveal that Lakenheath are one of a growing list of non-league clubs that have launched an appeal against the null and void decision.

He added: “I understand that there is a growing call for the FA to look at the situation again, which we as a club would support, as the decision has not yet been ratified by the FA board (council).

“It is a horrible set of circumstances that the FA has found itself in and there are no easy answers, we just feel that the resolution could have been much fairer, especially to those clubs who have already mathematically gained promotion.

“With the Thurlow Nunn First Division North, none of the top three sides has ever played at Step 5. And while no-one can say that all three would have been promoted, we had all been in promotion places since September, so a bit of history has potentially been taken away.

“When football comes back we will be ready and hopefully have another season as successful as this.”

In the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division, Newmarket Town were fourth, with Mildenhall Town in eighth. Ely City occupied 18th spot while up in the BetVictor Isthmian League North Division, Soham Town Rangers were 13th.