The decision was announced on Tuesday, with all leagues below England’s “fifth division”, the National League, are ending their seasons with immediate effect amid the continuing suspension of domestic football because of the coronavirus.
The final games for most sides were played on March 7, with the National League divisions also running on March 14. With most leagues’ fixtures not completed, the FA Leagues Committee has to make a tough decision. They appear to have two options. The first is to render the 2019-2020 campaign “null and void”, with all divisions remaining the same as back in August 2019 when the next season starts – whenever that might be. Or they could determine final standings for 2019-2020, and all promotion and relegation issues, using what’s called “points per game”.
Under the points per game system, both Croydon and Croydon Athletic would remain in the same divisions: Athletic would end the unfinished season in the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division one place higher, in 16th, while the Trams’ hopes of an immediate promotion from Division One thwarted, as they sit eighth.
Paul Smith, the Croydon Athletic club chairman, said that no outcome is particularly satisfactory, “but compared to what is going on in our communities, in our hospitals it pales into insignificance”.
Smith adds that it is “very difficult imagining when we might be playing again”.
He said, “Obviously the FA has to come to a fair decision about what happens to promotion and relegation. Any decision must be as fair as possible but there are likely to be anomalies that will occur.”
The coronavirus outbreak and the premature end of the season will also have a substantial financial impact on the Rams, according to Smith. “We expected to host a number of cup finals at our Mayfield Stadium, both the Croydon Municipal Sunday League and Tandridge Youth League finals, during this period and these are important for us financially. We have lost five home games, our end-of-season presentation and several fundraisers.
“This money is usually crucial to funding the club through the summer as we look to prepare for the new season. As a small business, it may well be that we will be able to get some support from the government, but given that we do not employ anyone and no one depends on us for their livelihood, our needs are not as urgent or important as others.
“This is a really challenging situation for us and all non-league clubs. We don’t know how long this will last and therefore we have to take it one day at a time.
“The football community is a real mix. Thousands of youngsters playing for clubs, while dedicated volunteers give of their time endlessly. Our regular volunteers who keep the stadium looking nice are in their 70s and one is 86! We want them all to keep safe. Stay at home for now because when this is all over, there will be plenty of work to do and we very much want them to be part of it.”
Those sentiments were very much echoed by the management team at Croydon FC. “Recent events surrounding the coronavirus is affecting us all and at this time the priority for everyone must be to ensure the health and wellbeing for everyone,” the club said in a statement issued to Inside Croydon.
“Croydon FC fully supports the decisions taken to safeguard everyone and playing football seems a long way off and on the back-burner. We have offered the use of our facilities to Croydon Council to assist them with this massive challenge.
“The club is working hard to understand the implications of the situation in terms of our work in the community, players’ welfare, supporters and club finances. With no matches planned, our clubhouse closed, revenue generation for the foreseeable future will be very limited.
“Over the past 12 months, the club has been broken into on three separate occasions. These caused thousands of pounds of damage and loss to the clubhouse, which also serves as an educational base for young people as part of the Kinetic Foundation programme. We have and continue to work closely with Croydon Council who have been very supportive.
“The club has a loyal band of supporters and volunteers and together with our sponsors, we hope we can address the issues put before us and continue the good work of Croydon FC, a community asset for the people who live work and enjoy Croydon. We will keep you informed.”
As far as Liam Giles, the Trams’ boss, is concerned, the fairest way for the season to end is to scrap it, forget it and start all over again as soon as it is safe to do so.
“People will feel aggrieved either way, but I personally feel that ‘null and void’ is the only way it can be done especially when you look at SCEFL Division 1,” Giles said.
“There are still eight teams, including us, with a mathematical chance of promotion, so how would it be fair to promote on Points Per Game when certain teams haven’t played each other twice or, in some cases, even once.
“There are also other factors you have to take into account – a season was never decided in March and I’m sure we won’t see the Premier League end on PPG. I feel that a mini-league or play-off could be done to decide promotion and relegations, with the teams who are involved in either promotion or relegation. Failing that, it should be scrapped and we start again.
“People may ask whether I would say the same thing if we were sitting top of the league at this point but the truth of it is I would rather be seen to earn the right rather than it be settled on PPG as this is the business end of the season and there will be lots of twists and turns.
“For example, we dominated our last game away at Lewisham, they beat Elmstead 4-1 three days before and Elmstead beat Holmesdale the week before that 2-1.”
Giles’s assessment is that the club would have had a good chance to go up, given the morale of the team and the personnel he’s been able to recruit recently, especially with a semi-final of the Hospitals Charity Cup on the horizon, but he acknowledged that “the current situation needs to be dealt with and people’s health takes priority over football”.
On the whole, Giles, who has been in the job with Croydon for around a year now, was fairly pleased with his side’s showing over the course of the season, despite some lows.
“This was always going to be a tough season for Croydon with the relegation last season. I retained four players who ended the 2018-2019 season, so it was a huge rebuild of the first-team squad. We have gone through a fair few players but we were now playing a good style of football and getting the results to match. Previously we were outplaying sides and not taking our chances.
“Whatever happens now with the season, we will be raring to go for the 2020-2021 season and I believe we are on to something special down at Croydon Arena. Off the field we have really built a great relationship between players, management and supporters and long may that continue.”
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