FA and leagues need to start thinking about plan b – Mason

Steeton manager Roy Mason

Steeton manager Roy Mason wants the FA and North West Counties League to “start looking at a plan b” in case Non League Football is stopped in the coming weeks or if a full season is unlikely to be completed.

The new North West Counties season is already in huge jeopardy after less than two weeks after starting because of the Covid Alert Level Tier 3 restrictions placed on Liverpool.

AFC Liverpool have already postponed their next three fixtures because of the new rules affecting Merseyside. The Isle of Man are unlikely to even play at all and several other clubs are unable to play because of restrictions. There’s chaos even before postponements caused by positive tests, players in self-isolation or bad weather are taken into account.

In the NPL, Prescot Cables are playing behind closed doors because of the Tier 3 rules.

Mason wants the league to begin planning short-term solutions to allow teams to continue playing football if a full season is not viable or if the worse comes to the worse, have financial assistance ready and waiting.

“I could envisage a situation in the next couple of weeks where leagues start looking at a plan b of for example; try and have some mini leagues if we can still play,” Mason told Non League Yorkshire.

“Would some of these leagues say ‘we’re going to split it down’? Leagues will look to try and be creative, but it will be difficult if it is going to be on a stop-start basis. 

“We have Golcar, Nelson, Barnoldswick and there’s other clubs who are near us so we could go into a mini league with them. It would keep people active which I think is really important and it would help the lads’ mental health.

“It is definitely time to start thinking about plan b. There also needs to a plan b financially if it is to stop entirely. If Government is going to look after the National League, they need to be looking further down the pyramid and I think it is time the FA recognised the clubs.

“At the moment we have been very lucky to lose only a few clubs since March, but if there’s no financial support if it is stopped again, a lot will struggle to survive.”

Mason is one of several managers who in the summer continually warned the FA and the respective leagues that they will be sailing into chaos if they pressed ahead with plans for a full season.

The North West Counties is one of few leagues to come out with credit as they were openly sceptical about starting the new season and delayed it as far back as October 3rd.

Mason hopes the campaign can continue and finish, but he’s “realistic”.

“It hasn’t (the chaos) come as a surprise to me and you didn’t need to be a genius to work out when you were listening to everything that this (second wave) was going to come,” he said.

“I half-expected something coming out yesterday where the Government were going to stop things like travelling. 

“I’ve been open about my opinions on this (the season) and when you’re in this position, it is going to be very difficult to complete a season. If you have a team like AFC Liverpool having to postpone their next three fixtures, that’s virtually taking them to the end of October, start of November. That’s when the weather starts getting grimmer. How are teams going to get these fixtures played?

“You could be in a position where some teams have played five games by Christmas. It is a really difficult call for the league and what has made it even more difficult for the league is that the North West of England is the worst hit (area for Covid-19). It is going to affect more teams within our league.

“When Liverpool was put into Tier 3, I had a quick look and there’s four teams in our Division who fall under it in Lower Breck, AFC Liverpool, St Helen’s and Pilkington. 

“The other issue we have got is; yes we may be able to still play football, but what happens if local councils step in and say to some of these clubs that they have to play behind closed doors. That becomes problematic because the league have been consistent in that they don’t want to play behind closed doors as it is not sustainable. 

“You also have the Isle of Man in the South Division and realistically are they going to kick a ball this season? You look at it now and it seems farcical (they were put in the league), but you have to feel for them because they must have put an awful amount of work in and finance in for it to go to waste.

“It would be disappointing if the (NWC) season was finished next week because from a manager’s perspective, half of my players would start looking to play for other clubs.

“It is going to be very difficult, but from a manager’s point of view, I have to look at it and say ‘hold on, if our season is curtailed, I’ll have a few lads looking to play for other clubs’. Being realistic though, finishing the season is going to be a huge problem and the problem isn’t going to go away.”

If cases and hospitalisations continue to rise, the FA may be forced to act even before the Government as most Non League clubs are run by volunteers over 70s – those classed as vulnerable and who may soon not feel attending fixtures.

“We’re said from day one when we didn’t go to Lower Breck in March, one of the reasons for that was because of our committee members as a lot of them are around 70.” he said.

“We have to look after them and it is very difficult for a club to function without its volunteers. 

“Who’s going to do the kits? Who’s going to do the match-day stewarding? Who’s going to do the turnstile operating? You can’t just drag people off the streets.

“Most clubs have volunteers over 70 and if they can’t attend because of the situation, clubs won’t be able to function. It is as simple as that.

“I get everyone’s enthusiasm about wanting to play, but as you get older you see the bigger picture and you also realise that there is more important things than football.

“You have to look at everyone around your club and the safety of the volunteers and supporters as well.”

For now, Steeton are still playing and face a long trip to Cleator Moor next – and the logistics that just sum up how crazy it is at the moment.

“We’re playing Cleator Moor Celtic on Saturday which is our furthest game and we’re having to get two buses because of Covid restrictions,” he said.

“Normally we would go on one, but we have to double our expenses and a lot of committee and management are having to make their own way there.”

If you have enjoyed reading Non League Yorkshire over the past few months, please consider making a donation to the not-for-profit organisation NLY Community Sport which provides sport for children and adults with disabilities and learning difficulties. CLICK HERE to visit the JustGiving page. There is a video at the bottom of the page showing our work.

NLY Community Sport, run by James Grayson and Connor Rollinson, has always had combatting social isolation at the top of our objectives when running our Disability Football teams. As we slowly return to ‘action’, our work will play an important role in reintroducing our players, who have disabilities and learning difficulties, back into society.

We have six teams, a mixture of Junior and Adult teams – Nostell MW DFC, Pontefract Pirates, Selby Disability Football Club and the South Yorkshire Superheroes (Barnsley) – across Yorkshire.

We have enjoyed great success over the past three years. Several of our players have represented Mencap GB in Geneva, including Billy Hobson from Selby and Greg Smith, whose story is quite inspiring.

Like most organisations, we have been affected financially by the Coronavirus and because of the cancelled Lucille Rollinson Memorial Tournament, we are down on projected income for the year and we have incurred losses in the last few months.

We have not been hit as badly as other organisations, but we do need raise £2000 to put us back at the level we were at in mid-March and enable us to make a difference once again to our players’ lives in the future, without having financial worries. Several of our players are suffering from effects of the lockdown and we are determined to be in the strongest position possible to provide services for them.

Any amount raised above £2000 will be put towards new projects (when the world returns to normal) designed to further benefit people with disabilities and learning difficulties. You can learn more about the organisation HERE and on our Facebook page.

Watch the video below to see highlights from our three years as an organisation. The video was produced for our players at the end of March to remind them of good memories from the last three years.

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