Things are getting weird in non-league English football. There are reports out now that the Vanarama National League, which constitutes levels 5-6 on the football pyramid, is set to end the 2019-20 seasons now at the direction of the FA due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and could even void the entire season’s results.
The Guardian is reporting that now-deleted tweets from the Essex Senior League account, which represents clubs at level 9 of the pyramid, stated that the National League was instructed by the FA to end the season “immediately.”
Below is the announcement from the now-deleted tweets:
“Following on from the pre-arranged Webex meeting today with the FA and our colleagues in Step 5/6 leagues, The FA have confirmed that the season 2019/20 must end immediately. The consensus was there is no option of any football being played for the rest of this season due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Even if the FA were to extend, it wasn’t going to be possible to complete remaining games, also subject to being allowed to socialise by May.”
The implication is that representatives from the Essex Senior League were part of an online meeting between officials from the FA and those from non-EFL lower leagues where the sentiment was communicated, but the Guardian also emphasizes that no decision had been made on exactly how to end the season. Whatever decision is made would be implemented throughout the entire non-league system, and could mean, if the season is voided, that there would be no promotion or relegation between those leagues.
Meanwhile, Dan Kilpatrick at the Evening Standard appears to corroborate that the National League is about to void their seasons, but points out that doing so could have a ripple effect on the three FA leagues as well as the Premier League, which have all committed to finishing the season. It notes, for starters, that the Football League is already one team short of its required 72 due to Bury being kicked out of the league for insolvency.
If the EFL were to void promotion and relegation despite finishing the season — and this is the same for the Premier League’s relegated teams — it could provoke a rash of lawsuits, including from teams that were expected to promote and reap the financial windfall that comes with a move up in level. That could also include Barrow, currently leading in the National League, but without an unassailable mathematical advantage.
The whole thing is, frankly, a huge mess. On its current trajectory you could end up with the vast majority of English football divisions voiding the entire season, except for the top four divisions, but without clarity on what to do with the teams that finish at the top and bottom of their respective leagues. And nobody seems to have a good idea of what that means.