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National League North season null and void

Posted onPosted on 20th Feb

The National League North season has been cancelled in the wake of the recent pandemic, bringing disruption to a local non-league side.

Whilst Mansfield Town remain unaffected in League Two, Alfreton Town should now be free to fight another day after a challenging few months. The Reds and manager Billy Heath found themselves 21st out of 22 in the standings, albeit with only 15 matches played, but they should now start again next season, finances willing, looking to retain their league status.

The official announcement from the National League stated that clubs in National League North voted 15-7 in favour of voiding the season, whilst those in the South voted 9-12 against, meaning the season ends immediately.

It does appear to be a reprieve for the struggling Reds, but crucially there will still be ‘dialogue’ between the National League and the FA around promotion and relegation. However, with a little under a third of the season played, it does seem unlikely that any will take place.

Whilst many struggling clubs have welcomed the decision, there are still questions to be answered about how it was handled. The resolution was suggested two weeks ago and in the interim period there were 21 games in the two divisions, all of which incurred costs for the clubs competing that were essentially pointless outlays.

This is the latest disruption to sport because of the coronavirus pandemic, which stretches back almost a year now. Football at all levels was suspended in March 2020 and since then stadiums have not been permitted to admit supporters in all but a handful of instances.

Whilst elite football continues, which includes Mansfield Town, the non-league game has been hit severely.

Football was not the only sport to be adversely affected by the pandemic. Numerous high-level sporting events were affected last year, with Bwin’s ‘How COVID-19 Has Affected the Sporting Calendar’ post outlining how the Formula One season, Grand Slam tennis events and even the Olympics were affected. However, as we hopefully begin to emerge out of the other side of the pandemic, major tournaments such as Euro 2020 are scheduled to go ahead this year instead.

Sadly, the effects of the situation are still being felt by smaller community clubs. Currently, the National League is scheduled to continue after member clubs voted 7-13 in favour of continuing to play.

That will be a blow to bottom club Dover, who recently opted to furlough their staff and announce they would take no further part in the competition.

There is still much to be resolved in the division, with two clubs yet to vote, and a further seven clearly stating they do not want to play. Whilst it seems unlikely that the league will not continue, there will be a long, dark shadow cast over any eventual outcome if some clubs choose to accept sanctions rather than play on. That affects Mansfield’s former rivals, Notts County and Chesterfield, both now in the National League.

How that league resolves its issues could also directly affect Mansfield Town, as the National League is one step below the Stags. Nigel Clough’s first season in charge is likely to finish, with no desire from member clubs to see early curtailment again.

The Stags are 15th and just 11 points outside the bottom two, so if their form dipped, which looks highly unlikely, then they could be dragged into a relegation battle. Disruption to the level below could mean no promotion and, crucially, no relegation.

That is likely to be a lifeline for Barrow, Southend United and Grimsby Town, who are eight points adrift of 21st-placed Stevenage and in a three-horse race for Football League survival.