OPINION: What should become of the Steps 3-6 seasons? Reporters from across the UK have their say

For the second season running, clubs at steps 3-6 of the non-league pyramid face having their season null and voided.

Thursday, 21st January 2021, 11:42 am
Updated Thursday, 21st January 2021, 11:46 am
Grounds like Corby Town's Steel Park have been sitting empty for months following the suspension of football from Steps 3 and below

Unlike last season, when the governing body controversially declared the season null and void without any consultation, the FA are at least seeking clubs’ views this time.

All clubs have until this Friday to complete a survey issued by the FA, voicing their opinion on how they think 2020/21 should be brought to a close.

Options include null and voiding, points-per-game ratios being implemented, or pausing the campaigns now and restarting in August with a view to finishing 2020/21 at some point in what would have been 2021/22.

AFC Rushden & Diamonds haven't played a Southern League fixture since the end of October

Here, a selection of leading non-league reporters from around the country give their views ...

Simon Carter (The News, Portsmouth)

How I think the seasons should be ended

Suspend them now, restart them in August and play to a conclusion. Reintroduce county cups and other local cup competitions that might not have been played in 2020/21 - Hampshire Senior, Russell Cotes, Portsmouth Senior - to flush out the fixture list. That will, presuming no more lockdowns, ensure a finish of around February/March given that we can almost certainly expect some bad weather. If the season finishes any earlier, additional supplementary cups can be played. This plan ensures a second null and void is avoided - crucial to the integrity of the leagues - and provides promotion/relegation based on an entire league programme, albeit one stretched out from September 2020 to sometime in early 2022 (hopefully).

The likes of Banbury United are facing another season being declared null and void

How I think the FA will end the seasons

Null and void, sadly. I’m sure that’s what they want - this survey is only a PR exercise - and are hoping enough clubs agree with them. But the governing body should be doing all they can to facilitate seasons being completed, not cancelling them with undue haste as they did last March. Even if you don’t agree with the Project Non League proposals - promoting clubs based on results over two seasons since the start of 2019/20 - at least they have been creative. They seem to have non-league football’s best interests at hearts. I remain unconvinced the FA, at a national level, feel the same way.

Steve Bone, Sussex Newspapers sport

How I think the seasons should be ended

When the first lockdown was imposed last March, I wrote that there was no need to abandon the 19-20 season - just rename it. Call it the 19-21 season and give clubs and leagues however long was needed to finish it. That would have allowed for there being no football for a year. Of course no-one in authority listened. Now, I'd say the same. 'Freeze' the tables and fixture lists for as long as you need to, then pick up where we left off. If ongoing Covid problems mean there's less time for action from August 2021 to May 2022, then at least leagues will have made a start. If this causes issues with player movement and contracts, those just have to be overcome.

How I think the FA will end the seasons

I am far from convinced that those in power are open to anything radical, and I would be amazed if this does not become a second straight season made null and void for non-league clubs at step 3 and below. That will suit some and anger others, but if the FA were so quick to write off a season that had run until March, I can't see them having any hesitation doing the same to a campaign that's not nearly as close to completion.

Jon Dunham (Northamptonshire Telegraph)

How I think the seasons should be ended

Given that clubs were given what has proved to be false hope that this season would be completed in its entirety, I think they should get the chance to do just that. I think they should stay suspended for the time being and once clubs are able to play again, with fans in their grounds (even if the capacities are restricted as before), the leagues should resume exactly how they stand at the moment. If that means that there isn’t a 2021/22 campaign then so be it. In hindsight, the 2019/20 campaign should now be being played to a finish instead of it being declared null and void like it was last year. The same mistake shouldn’t be made.

How I think the FA will end the seasons

There’s no real doubt in my mind that it will be declared null and void. That’s what the FA and Trident Leagues have suggested and it’s unlikely a majority of clubs will disagree, even if it’s not what they actually want. In fairness, it’s easier to declare this season null and void given the smaller number of games that have been played. And that’s why I think that will be the course of action taken.

Daniel Gregory (The Scarborough News & Whitby Gazette)

How I think the seasons should be ended

Sadly this level of football has been left to fend for itself - therefore leading us to the inevitable position where a null and void conclusion is the only realistic option open to leagues. The lack of funding on offer to steps 3-6 is very sad to see and we could end up having a few clubs unfortunately failing to come through this pandemic intact. I have been left very disappointed by the lack of communication by the Northern Premier League. They seem to be further behind the curve than Boris' Tories - which says all you need to know. The big thing for me is clarity - these clubs need clarity now. If they know they won't be playing until August then at least they can do everything in their power to bunker down and see out what will undoubtedly be a testing few months.

How I think the FA will end the seasons

Null and void, what is the alternative? The FA will take the easy way out after letting things get to this stage with their total lack of support and financial backing for clubs at these levels.

Duncan Browne (Boston Standard)

How I think the seasons should be ended

Another null and void decision would see the teams who have shown promotion potential so far this season - especially those who were up there when last season was ended - facing up to 20 months of hard work and costs just being scrubbed off.

And what next? Do they see their better players become free agents and picked off by rivals when football returns? Don't rule it out.

On the flipside, struggling teams could get a reprieve once again, regroup and come back stronger.

The FA have made it clear they want to complete the season with promotion and relegations, allowing them to restructure the National League System and create their perfect pyramid.

But how can that be possible where we have no idea when lockdown will end and the tier system becomes favourable to kick off again?

After declaring last season null and void with most teams having played 25-30 matches, relegating a club who has played 11 times this season would be beyond farcical.

How I think the FA will end the seasons

Covid-19 remains out there and, if playing on endangers the health of volunteers and spectators, then you have to ask is it worth it?

If putting the season on hold forces clubs to incur additional costs and subsequently fold, then they will have been failed by their governing authorities.

There is no correct answer, but a decision must be made quickly before clubs go out of business and players lose interest. It feels like null and void is the only answer, but with the caveat that things only restart when there is confidence or rules in place to ensure a new season can reach a conclusion.