AFC Sudbury boss Mark Morsley says Isthmian League 'out of touch' with post lockdown restart plan
Unveiling plans to restart their league two weeks later than the Thurlow Nunn League has left a frustrated AFC Sudbury manager Mark Morsley labelling the Isthmian League board 'out of touch with football'.
Yesterday afternoon saw the Isthmian League, which includes AFC Sudbury, Bury Town, Felixstowe & Walton United and Soham Town Rangers in its North Division, announce plans to resume matches on Saturday, December 19.
It gave a caveat that if clubs wished to play a fixture before that they could 'so long as five days notice is given to enable match officials to be appointed'.
But it still left them lagging behind the restart plan of the lower-level Thurlow Nunn League, which is allowing matches from December 5 at its clubs' discretion – four days after England is due to come out of a second coronavirus lockdown.
All non-elite football from Steps 3 down of the National League System has been suspended during the Covid-19 national lockdown in order to curb rising case numbers.
At eight matches, AFC Sudbury have played the joint most in the league – with Suffolk rivals Bury Town at four having the least on the board.
But Morsley still feels strongly that their backlog – having been due to miss five matches over the four week break – meant they should have been restarting sooner than the Isthmian League's plan.
He said: "It just shows how far out of touch the Isthmian League is with football and also how they are not prepared to make changes to help the clubs.
"As I have previously said it should have been a return to competitive action on the 5th of the 12th, just like the Thurlow Nunn League.
"The 19th means potentially loads of Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday games and that is wrong.
"A Step 3/4 league have been undermined by the excellent decision made by the Thurlow Nunn League because fundamentally they want to make their position easier to manage.
"But that is not taking into consideration the most important part of the league, that being the clubs."
Isthmian League chairman Nick Robinson responded to the comments by saying they are happy for clubs to arrange a fixture or fixtures ahead of December 19, if it suits them and their opponents.
"If he wants to play on the fifth and get his squad together for that then he can, that is not a problem." he said. "But we will not force other clubs to play then.
"It is a choice for clubs on the 12th and I have worked out there are 23 Saturdays from the 19th of December to 22nd May and I think, from our point of view of the spectators, a lot will look at it and think on a sunny May evening I will go and watch a game, instead of a cold November night. So clubs may end up get more of a crowd and better revenue."
He said having 21 clubs still in FA Trophy action, with a provisional plan set to include playing mid-week rounds in December, was a factor for the board to consider, but the biggest one was the science they were presented with.
"A director at the meeting produced a scientific piece from the publication The Athletic that says for every four week break there should be a three-week recovery (for players returning) - that is quite powerful.
"We looked at it and thought what should we do and we said if any club wants to play on the fifth, eighth, 12th or anything inbetween, if they can persuade an opponent to do so, we will be as felixible as possible with bringing fixtures forward or using postponed ones.
"We we say is the FA needs five days to appoint match officials."
He added: "We took account of a lot of views and we have nine representative clubs in the board.
"We also spoke to a number of managers.
"We are certainly not just sat up in an ivory castle making these decisions.
"I believe we have produced a good results for clubs and their players and, maybe on reflection, Mark will be able to come back and think, yes, that is a good result."
The Isthmian League has also announced a season extension to May 22, which is two weeks later than planned.
The Thurlow Nunn League had already decided to extend their season by three weeks, to May 15 with their Premier Division having the same amount of teams (20) as the North Division.
The Isthmian League's season restart date of December 19 would, subject to no fixture list rejig, see the following games mark the return for our sides, unless they choose to and are able with an opponent to arrange a game earlier:
- AFC Sudbury (2nd): Home to Aveley (9th)
- Bury Town (4th): Away to Grays Athletic (8th)
- Felixstowe & Walton United (13th): Home to Canvey Island (15th)
- Soham Town Rangers (7th): Away to Basildon United (19th)