Over recent weeks the coronavirus outbreak has reminded us all – as if we needed it – that football is just a game.
Health must always take priority over sport and this is a virus which does not discriminate. It has affected us all and there is rightly huge worry over health and livelihoods across the world.
Our strong belief is that football will have a key part to play when life eventually returns to normal, whenever that will be.
Football binds so many of us together and is important to so many lives. Not important in the grand scheme of life and health, but important nonetheless. It provides a release to so many people once or twice a week and individuals the world over dedicate much of their lives to following their team and striving for every ounce of joy it brings. At its best it is a simply joyful game.
For that reason, we make no apology for making our feelings regarding the FA’s decision to declare the 2019-20 season null and void from step three of the non-league system downwards known.
As has been well-documented, ahead of the season being paused as a result of the coronavirus outbreak just 10 days ago South Shields sat top of the BetVictor Northern Premier Division, 12 points clear of our nearest rivals with nine games to play.
We will now never know how the remainder of the campaign would have played out but we have full confidence that our outstanding players and management would have completed the job and sealed promotion to National League North.
To have that prospect snatched away so quickly is something all players and staff at the club are finding understandably difficult to comprehend.
We do not understand the rush there has been among many quarters of the non-league game to conclude the season so quickly.
We recognise that many clubs simply do not have the resources to continue paying players and staff during an enforced lay-off such as this, with so much uncertainty over when football will return. But would it not have been more prudent to keep the season suspended until it is safe to return, end contracts as they would usually end following the completion of the season, allow clubs to re-assemble squads when the situation is more clear and then complete this campaign when the opportunity arises?
The FA’s decision has effectively punished those clubs further down the non-league system which have strived tirelessly over the last six months to progress up the pyramid. We stand alongside the many other clubs which find themselves in a similar situation and have already opened dialogue with some of them regarding the best way forward. We will write to the FA in the strongest possible terms so they are left in no uncertainty as to our feelings, and will seek to appeal if there is a mechanism to do so. If the response does not satisfy us we will seek legal advice.
We will seek clarification over whether, with all of the results of the 2019-20 season now annulled, all fines paid to the FA as a result of players picking up yellow and red cards in those matches will now be reimbursed. We will seek clarification over whether the FA will now refund all tickets bought by supporters for those annulled games. We will seek clarification over whether the FA will reimburse the costs accrued by clubs over the last six months for coach travel to away fixtures, which in our case equates to approximately £20,000. We have several other questions and look forward to the FA’s reply.
A further concern of ours is that, should coronavirus be ‘beaten’ over the summer months only to return in a frightening second wave next winter, results next season will also be annulled. It is our strong suggestion that the FA rule book is amended now so that such injustices do not occur again in the future. If seasons cannot be completed, we strongly disagree that they should be consigned to the history books. There are fairer ways to draw a line under things, including applying a points per game ratio to the standings and potentially promoting those in promotion positions and sparing those in relegation spots, leading to some leagues being slightly larger in number the following campaign.
We look forward with interest to see which way the National League season is finalised. What is the reason the FA has allowed step three of the non-league system downwards to be cut off from the pyramid in this way?
We also look ahead with interest to see which way other leagues higher up the pyramid – particularly the Premier League – are concluded should no more football be possible. Will the Premier League also be null and void should this happen?
The 2019-20 season taught us plenty, on and off the pitch. We would like to pay a huge tribute to everyone who played a part in it, from our players and staff to our outstanding supporters, sponsors and volunteers. Your backing is incredible and we are sorry the conclusion to the season is not the one you all deserved. We are even more determined to go again next season and give it absolutely everything we have got to secure promotion in 2020-21, so please keep the faith.
We face huge challenges financially over the summer months and hugely appreciate all those who have shown incredible commitment to the club over recent weeks by purchasing early bird season tickets, merchandise and making donations. You will all get the opportunity to buy shares in the club once the current uncertain situation becomes more clear, as we have promised previously.
We do not know when the 2020-21 season will begin. That will be determined by how the current worldwide health crisis develops over the coming months.
We are hugely looking forward to the day football returns to Mariners Park and we are able to see our supporters again. The next few months are going to be very long for more than one reason but we will be back, and are confident you will be too.
Please continue to abide by Government advice and stay at home as much as you possibly can. There will be a day when this virus is an awful memory but there are, of course, many difficult days ahead. Thank you once again for your continued support and please, please stay safe. We wish you and your families the very best of health. There are much better days ahead.