‘Absolute disgrace’: Walton & Hersham director criticises FA for expungement decision

By Tom Holmes
April 6 2020, 10.30

One of football’s most repeated and enduring lines came from the great Bill Shankly.

“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that,” he said.

Those words have never rung more hollow, with life on hold and deaths mounting, and football little more than a sideshow.

When speaking to people within the game, it is clear many of them feel it is wrong to even discuss how the 19/20 season should end.

But, important or not, footballing decisions have to be made and on March 26 The Football Association decided to expunge the 19/20 season for all Steps below the National League North and South – Steps 3-6 of the non-league pyramid.

That decision was met by hostility in many quarters and on March 30, 66 non-league clubs banded together to pen an open letter to the FA, panning the decision. That number has since risen to more than 100.

Among those clubs was Walton & Hersham and club director, Sartej Tucker, was extremely unhappy with the decision.

Mr Tucker said: “The FA had no real right to do what they did without consulting any of the clubs.

“They’re risking compromising the integrity of the entire footballing structure and shooting themselves in the foot in terms of their future relationship with non-league football.

“For them this is a crucial watershed moment in that respect.

“It treats every single team with complete contempt that they haven’t consulted us at all.

“This is a rushed decision that hasn’t been thought through and we’re quite angry about the manner this has been done.”

Walton & Hersham were sitting third in Division One of the Combined Counties Football League, a spot that, if maintained, would have seen them promoted from Step six to five of the non-league pyramid.

Mr Tucker, 20, added that while the FA had sought the views of individual clubs, those conversations were not formalised and not taken into consideration.

He said: “It was testing how leagues would react and then issuing their own unilateral decision at the end of it. The conversations were a formality and there was no consultation of any substance.

“We don’t get eight/nine months into the season, just to write it off and lie down about it. It just can’t happen.

“The FA need to show some contrition for the manner in which they’ve imposed this on clubs.

“I think it’s an absolute disgrace that they’ve been able to do this without any formal consultation of the clubs whatsoever.

“I completely agree there’s more going on than football right now, but it will resume again and there is absolutely no reason why the FA has made this decision right now when we don’t know when that’s going to happen.”

The decision still needs to be ratified by the FA Council, which is set to meet the week commencing April 6, but Mr Tucker was confident that with the level of backlash the FA will be forced to rethink its plan.

He also mentioned that several unnamed clubs are consulting legal teams, though Walton & Hersham are not one of them.

Although not every club is actively against the decision, there remains some unease about the speed and unilateral nature of it.

AFC Croydon Athletic chairman Paul Smith said: “I think I would have liked the FA to take more time and consult more clubs.

“I’m not sure what the barriers to such a consultation would be to be perfectly honest.

“I’m also not sure I can see or realise what the haste would be and why this was a decision that had to be taken in March and couldn’t have been taken in April.”

But while the decision has been met by backlash in many quarters, some managers and chairmen vocally agree with the FA’s policy.

Kingstonian manager Hayden Bird said: “At our level, I can’t see how we could restart the season and if there’s no way to finish the season then the fairest outcome is to declare it null and void.

“I think this was the best outcome and it also means that we can give this season closure. We love football and we all wanted to finish the season but at our level it is only football. When you turn on the TV it pales into insignificance and we should all be mindful of that.”

An FA spokesperson said: “The decision taken to end the 2019/20 season across Steps 3-7 of the National League System, the women’s football pyramid and the wider grassroots game was made by committee representatives for the respective leagues, and was supported by The FA Board and The FA Women’s Board.

“It will now go to The FA Council for ratification. We fully support the decision they came to during these challenging and unprecedented circumstances for English football.”

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