Ramsbottom United’s stop-start season has been hit by another delay due to the recently introduced tiers that have placed the club in the highest tier 3.
Hoping to revive the season with a home derby game against Colne on Saturday, the latest ruling from government put paid to that following a zoom meeting between all clubs and the three leagues in non-league’s level 3 and 4.
This season, the three leagues who run the game at this level throughout the country have come together in what is now known as the Trident Leagues, to formulate plans that will be adopted by the three organisations, as opposed to previous seasons where each league has run autonomously.
The thinking behind this is two-fold.
It ensures that all three leagues operate simultaneously to ensure an agreed end to the season, with the aim of ensuring a fair promotion and relegation finale.
It also gives the clubs at this level a bigger voice when those charged with running the leagues make representation to both the government and the FA
After the meeting last week, the following statement was made by the Trident Leagues:
Following the statement issued by the Isthmian, Northern Premier and Southern Football Leagues yesterday, further clarification can now be given in relation to the voting following the Zoom meetings held by all 3 Trident Leagues with their Member Clubs to discuss the impact of the raising of the lockdown on 2nd December.
There were 224 Clubs voting across the 3 Leagues and of these 172 agreed with the proposition to continue the pause in fixtures, 51 disagreed and there was 1 abstention. Broken down by League, 57 Clubs in the Northern Premier League voted to agree with 4 disagreeing, 68 Clubs in the Southern League agreed with 14 disagreeing and in the Isthmian League it was much closer with 47 Clubs agreeing, 33 disagreeing and 1 abstention.
The “Agree” vote was therefore 76% and it has been agreed that the three Leagues will not sanction fixtures at this time.
It is intended that the situation is kept under review in line with Government review on the Tier allocations and restrictions. Accordingly, the next review is set for 16 December and then 30 December. It is the hope of all the Leagues that a date in January can be set for a return to fixtures with Clubs who wish being allowed to play before that date but this will not be until there is a change in the Tiers and/or some progress in the funding of the Clubs at this level.
The Government has allocated £25m to Sport England to fund Steps 1 to 6 of the National Leagues System, of which £14m is set for Steps 3-6 but is heavily weighted in favour of loans, not grants. The FA is working tirelessly with DCMS and Sport England to have the funding presented as Grants. However, these negotiations take time, and it is not expected to have an answer or clarification of details of even the loans until mid-January.
The deep concern of all involved in the NLS is that circumstances may mean that it is not possible to conclude the current format of competition in a manner in which promotion and relegation can be achieved throughout the whole pyramid with Step 2 being brought up to 48 Clubs and Step 4 brought up to 240 Clubs.
If, therefore, no progress is made by the Government on the Tiers in either of the two December reviews, it is the intention of the Alliance Committee to circulate those concerned with a survey to gather the views of the Clubs as how best to finish the season. Options will include an alternative format competition and extending the season possibly into June 2021. However the implications of all such proposals will involve the cost of players contracts and the ability of some clubs to continue playing because of other issues of grounds and the need to prepare grass pitches for the following season.
The Leagues are mindful of the needs of all Clubs and are striving to find a solution which is fair to all.
Rams secretary Tony Cunningham commented “It’s been an extraordinary season so far, but no-one has a crystal ball to see what is ahead of us.
“We are all desperate to begin playing again, but unless the government act in moving towns and cities out of tier 3, without fans there is no way we could or would wish to play.
“We are very much in the hands of the Leagues, who are working extremely hard to come up with a solution, with many on the board working long into the night. As clubs, we should acknowledge the effort that is being put in on our behalf and thank them for their hard work.
“The players have kept up their fitness levels, the management and club officials are all ready to go as soon as we get the go-ahead, and I know the supporters are raring to see us playing again. Let’s hope it is sooner rather than later.
“In the meantime, it’s just good to see the name of Ramsbottom United at the top of the Divisional table, where it has been now for the last six weeks. We just need to make sure it stays there for the next six months!”