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Future of non-league clubs in doubt: Chairman fears new season will be halted by coronavirus rules

PUBLISHED: 11:43 22 September 2020 | UPDATED: 08:15 23 September 2020

Fans observing social-distancing rules during Bury Town's FA Cup match at Cogenhoe United on the opening day of the season.. Picture: CARL MARSTON

Fans observing social-distancing rules during Bury Town's FA Cup match at Cogenhoe United on the opening day of the season.. Picture: CARL MARSTON

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Non-league football across the board could grind to a halt again, in the light of the new restrictions due to be put in place this week regarding the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bury Town chairman, Russell Ward, fears that the new season might be haltedBury Town chairman, Russell Ward, fears that the new season might be halted

And that could have serious implications as regards the long-term viability of some clubs.

Bury Town chairman Russell Ward, like his counterparts at other clubs across Steps Three and Four, admits that everyone is “in the dark” as to what the immediate future holds.

But Ward admitted this morning that he fears the season could be halted - when it has only just begun!

“My own personal opinion is that I wouldn’t be surprised if we all came to a halt again,” revealed Ward this morning.

Fans queuing up to gain entry to Great Wakering Rovers last weekend, for the Isthmian League opener against Felixstowe & Walton United, with the track-and-trace system in operation. Picture: CARL MARSTON,Fans queuing up to gain entry to Great Wakering Rovers last weekend, for the Isthmian League opener against Felixstowe & Walton United, with the track-and-trace system in operation. Picture: CARL MARSTON,

“I have heard nothing official yet, but one immediate thing that concerns me is the new rule about only table-service to be allowed in pubs (from Thursday onwards).

“Our clubhouse falls into the hospitality bracket, and we would find only table service to be unworkable, as would be the case at most football clubs.

“I doubt whether that has even been thought about, or discussed, with regards non-league clubs. That is a big issue.

“I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if the season was halted.

The scene at Burroughs Park, the home of Great Wakering Roers, for the visit of Felixstowe & Walton United last Saturday. The non-league season could be halted soon. Picture: CARL MARSTONThe scene at Burroughs Park, the home of Great Wakering Roers, for the visit of Felixstowe & Walton United last Saturday. The non-league season could be halted soon. Picture: CARL MARSTON

“I know that our league (Isthmian League), and I think the Southern League and Northern League as well, stated that clubs would not be expected to play games without any crowds.

“And that would still apply. It is all very frustrating, but hopefully the Leagues will do a lot of the ground-work for the clubs, with regards getting the information.

“For example, we are playing at home to Witham Town next Tuesday evening. And yet as it stands, I don’t know whether to order beer, or order food. I don’t really know what to do,” added Ward, whose Bury side entertain Brightlingsea Regent in an FA Cup tie at Ram Meadow this evening.

As yet, there has been no indication as to what impact the new tighter regulations will have on grassroots football.

WIll Gardner, left, celebrating with team-mate Ollie Hughes, scored Bury Town's winner in the FA Cup against Brightlingsea last nightWIll Gardner, left, celebrating with team-mate Ollie Hughes, scored Bury Town's winner in the FA Cup against Brightlingsea last night

The National League (Steps One and Two) look set to postpone their proposed start to their new season (scheduled for October 3), if supporters are not allowed to attend, which now appears certain, but the impact is less clear for clubs in Step Three and below.

In addition to the problems of only having table-service allowed at bars, there is the added complication of the new 10pm curfew for restaurants and pubs which will also apply to club-houses throughout non-league circles.

The 2019-20 season was initially halted last March, at the start of the pandemic.

And the likes of the Southern League, Isthmian League (Steps Three and Four) plus the Thurlow Nunn Eastern Counties League (Steps Five and Six) were later declared null and void.

Leiston's Will Davies, who scored four goals in a big FA Cup win for the Victory Road club last night. Picture: PAUL VOLLERLeiston's Will Davies, who scored four goals in a big FA Cup win for the Victory Road club last night. Picture: PAUL VOLLER

The Isthmian League and Southern League only kicked-off their new 2020-21 campaign last weekend, with the likes of Bury Town, AFC Sudbury, Felixstowe & Walton United, Leiston and Needham Market all playing their first league games of the season.

Meanwhile, Stowmarket Town manager Rick Andrews, believes it is too early to predict what will happen below the higher echelons (National League) of non-league.

“I don’t know whether they will do anything at the moment, but I suppose it all depends on the ‘R’ number,” said Andrews, with reference to latest reproduction number (R) and growth rate of Covid-19.

Andrews continued: “If the R rate keeps going up then things might change. I’m hoping that they (the government) will let things at our level (Step Five) carry on as it is.

“But it’s a bit too early to say and we are in the same boat as everyone else,” added Andrews, ahead of Stow’s FA Cup trip to Cambridge City this evening.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivered his speech to the UK Parliament about new coronavirus restrictions for England at lunchtime.

During this speech he confirmed that the reopening of sporting events, planned from October 1, will not now go ahead, directly affecting Steps One and Two of non-league.

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But there was no mention of leagues further down the football pyramid.

Meanwhile, in FA Cup first qualifying round action last night, BURY TOWN celebrated a 2-1 home win over Kem Izzet’s BRIGHTLINGSEA REGENT, thanks to Will Gardner’s second half winner in front of an all-ticket crowd of 400 at Ram Meadow.

Bury bossed the first half, and should really have been more than one goal up before Khris Oti crashed home an equaliser in first-half stoppage time.

Earlier, centre-half Taylor Hastings had peppered the target on three occasions, before Max Maughn was upended in the box by Phil Boyland, so enabling Cemal Ramadan to slot home the opener with a 29th minute penalty.

Bury regained the lead in the 68th minute, left-back Gardner heading home a pinpoint free-kick by Carlos Edwards. Gardner’s header flew into the roof of the net from six yard out.

Bury rarely looked like surrendering that advantage, so recording an impressive win over opposition from a higher level (Step Three).

SQUADS

BURY TOWN: Rose, Hood, Gardner, Edwards, Altintop, Hastings, Chambers-Shaw, Snaith, Hughes, Ramadan, Maughn. Unused subs: Cook, Nyadazyo, Pinyon, Hammett, Mayhew.

BRIGHTLIGHTSEA REGENT: Turner, Osei-Asomah, Gelashvili, Topley, Boyland, Bennett, Gilbert (sub Byrne-Hewitt, 53), Barnett, Oti (sub Machaya, 85), Kamanzi, Rocha (sub Bugg, 73). Unused subs: Larty, Crisell, Mahon, Whymark.

Elsewhere, LEISTON eased to a 5-1 victory over Biggleswade Town, thanks chiefly to a four goals by Will Davies.

Davies netted a first-half brace and James Eaton-Collins added a killer third just two minutes into the second half, before Davies completed his hat-trick on 72 minutes and then netted a fourth in the 84th minute.

AFC SUDBURY went down 4-0 at Stamford AFC in Lincolnshire. The hosts were 2-0 up at the break, through goals by Cosmos Matwasa (38) and James Blunden (43 & 84).

Blunden added his second (84) and James Hicks netted the fourth late. AFC Sudbury finished the match with 10 men, because having used all three substitutes, keeper James Walker was also unable to continue because of a head injury.

LONG MELFORD went down 3-1 at home to Cheshunt, Jacob Brown on target for the Villagers to halve the deficit to 2-1.

HAVERHILL ROVERS went down 3-0 at home to MALDON & TIPTREE, while MILDENHALL TOWN were beaten 4-0 at Leighton Town.

STOWMARKET TOWN went out, losing 4-2 on penalties to hosts Cambridge City, after Jack Ainsley’s 63rd minute penalty had levelled Robson’s 43rd minute opener.

But BRANTHAM ATHLETIC won 1-0 at home to St Ives Town, Matt Hayden scoring a first-half winner.

In the Thurlow Nunn Division One North, IPSWICH WANDERERS came from behind to clinch the league points against Framlingham with a 5-2 win.

The visitors shaded the first half and Taylor put them in front on 40 minutes.

Wanderers were much better in the second half and good work from Leggett allowed Field to equalise from close range on 50 minutes, and on 53 Barber forced the ball home in a crowded penalty area.

Matt Blake soon added a third before Leggett scored with a rasping drive.

Blake then scored his second and the home side’s fifth with a well-taken goal before the scoring was ended by a smart Framlingham attack with Taylor netting.


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