The North West Counties League will struggle to complete its season if the new lockdown measures are extended or bad weather strikes.
That’s the view of Steeton manager Roy Mason who hopes if the worst happens that his club will be able to still play in a competitive format.
Five teams across the league’s three Divisions have played just twice this season, while another nine have only seen action on three occasions. Then you have FC Isle of Man in the South Division who cannot leave ‘home’ and have yet to play since the league started on October 3rd.
“There is some clubs who have played two games and you know my opinions on this as I have been quite vocal because you could see what was coming,” Mason told Non League Yorkshire.
“I know Boris has said the 2nd December is when it (the lockdown) will finish, but I’m a bit dubious. You’ve got to say ‘is it’ (going to be just for a month)? The furlough scheme has been extended to March so things are leading up to prepare us for a long haul.
“It was obvious that once as the cold weather came in that cases were going to rise with other things. Equally as well, without a vaccine this thing isn’t going to go away.
“I don’t really envisage any football happening until the New Year. We’re almost into December and most of the pitches won’t be in a great condition. Are the leagues going to start immediately after lockdown? Bear in mind teams at our level can’t train (during the lockdown).
“If we play in the first week back in December, it will have been six weeks without a fixture because we didn’t play for two weeks (prior to the lockdown). Are we going to have a little pre-season or will we have to hit the ground running?
“I can certainly see a scenario if do start again in December that in January some teams will have played five games. How on earth are you going to get the season done? It is going to be impossible.
“If there’s anymore delays a decision will have to be made. Once as the lockdown was announced there was only ourselves, Golcar, Cleator Moor who weren’t in Tier 3, but ourselves and Golcar were on the verge of going into Tier 3. Virtually every club in our league is in Tier 3 and if we come out of the lockdown we’ll be going straight into Tier 3.
“It is going to be very difficult with a few more postponements or if the lockdown is extended because how on earth is it is going to be feasible to actually complete the season?
“We can all keep burying our heads in the sand, but this isn’t going away. We’re coming into the traditionally colder months of December, January, February, is the virus going to get worse?”
Mason is happy for the Toolstation Northern Counties East League to finish their campaign if they are able to as clubs have played a higher number of games than their North West counterparts.
But if the North West season is consigned to the bin in the New Year, Mason would like to see a short-term solution for Steeton and fellow clubs so they can still play fixtures, restrictions permitting.
“I’m at the stage where I would accept playing any kind of football (if the season was scrapped in January),” he said.
“It wouldn’t just be good for clubs who need the revenue, but also for the players, management, coaching staff, volunteers, supporters because of their mental health.
“Everybody needs something to look forward to. My life revolves around football and what I do at Steeton. To be without it, it leaves you scratching around. In the summer it was a bit of a novelty having some time off. It was nice to do some things you didn’t normally do.
“People being cooped up in November and December when there’s not much daylight, there’s going to be people virtually not leaving the house. Football is something they can look forward to, whether that’s playing, training or watching games, the kitmen washing the kit or the groundsmen. Take these things away and it can be mentally damaging.
“I’d be more than happy to have any kind of football next year. You can’t rule anything out. I would personally sacrifice this season as it has not got going and then start properly next August.
“But I can understand other people having different opinions. I spoke to James Bicknell at (NCEL club) Campion yesterday and of course they are top of their league and they have played a lot more games than us. For them they want to continue because it would be like two seasons wasted. If someone can crack on and get their league finished, let them crack on.
“In our league if you have only played two games, is it any hardship to have some kind of football in the New Year, whether it is mini-leagues or tournaments and then look to start properly in August, when fingers crossed, it is back to normal or nearest normal as we can get it?”
The Steeton chief also gave the North West Counties League a round of applause for their cool and composed leadership during the pandemic.
“I’ve nothing but praise for the North West Counties because I think the way they have communicated things to clubs in difficult circumstances has been fantastic,” he said.
“They have liaised with clubs on viewpoints, they’ve taken views from clubs and I think they have shown an err of caution as well.
“You talk to other clubs, other managers and even now I’m talking to people and they’re saying ‘it will definitely start in December, it is only for a month’. These are the same people who expected us to start in August.
“I think it is a fair shout that had the North West Counties been able to fully make their own decisions then they may have not started the season.
“I think they were reserved and I think it has been proved right to have been reserved on it.
“You only have to look at the figures in the North West and they’re higher. The North West Counties have been upfront about it and they’ve tried to manage expectations because there is no guarantee we will get a season.”
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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. When we properly return to ‘action’, our work will play an important role in reintroducing our players, who have disabilities and learning difficulties, back into society.
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