A season destroyed... how are some of our local football clubs coping?

Mulbarton Wanderers first team managers Danny Self, left, and Ben Thompson Picture: Jack Owen

Mulbarton Wanderers first team managers Danny Self, left, and Ben Thompson Picture: Jack Owen - Credit: Archant

The football season for some local teams is well and truly over after all results were expunged because of the coronavirus pandemic. We asked some of them how they are coping, and what the impact of the decision has been... this is in their own words

Mulbarton Wanderers saw their successful season come to an abrupt end Picture:: Jack Owen

Mulbarton Wanderers saw their successful season come to an abrupt end Picture:: Jack Owen - Credit: Archant

Written by Danny Self, joint player-manager at Mulbarton Wanderers

This was a fourth season in charge and we as a club have worked hard on and off the pitch to be progressive in a sustainable manner, raising funds and using our initiative and skills to make our club attractive and competitive.

This work allowed us to have our first ever season with a small player budget – that seems to be all for no reason or return it seems.

We made that step to try and gain promotion (from Thurlow Nunn First Division North) and all was going to plan. We’ve always tried to practice sustainability as a club to prevent issues in the future and taking the decision to have a budget was big for us. But if it had got us promoted, which was looking likely, it would’ve been speculating to accumulate as grants and funding are slightly easier to access from the league above.

Mulbarton Wanderers in league action against Sheringham Picture: Sheringham FC

Mulbarton Wanderers in league action against Sheringham Picture: Sheringham FC - Credit: Archant

But that money has gone nowhere and will have to be saved or raised again in what will I’m sure be uncertain times for clubs and businesses in terms of sponsorship. We have also lost the opportunity to run our biggest fund raising event in the shape of our festival, which is an amazing weekend that the community support greatly and is very popular. But with the current restrictions to normal life this was reluctantly cancelled.

So we send out a plea for local businesses and sponsors to remain committed to local football if they can do, because for clubs like ours the sponsorship brought in sustains the club from first team all the way down to the under sevens. We wholly support a call for central FA to filter down some funding to support and sustain non-league football as we sadly know it will he needed by many clubs to just continue.

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Like most clubs, we are run and held together by selfless volunteers who give up their valuable time to make sure we can have everything we need, and more. Forget the players and managers: we feel most sorry for our volunteers. They genuinely do it out of love and goodwill and, again, for what reason? And again, like all clubs, we plea that volunteers keep coming forward and supporting local football because you are the glue that holds it all together – or will be the glue that sticks it back together when we start back again.

Looking at this purely football-based, we are obviously disappointed for the reasons stated above: we were in a strong position, sitting top, six points clear of second and, more importantly, 14 points clear of fifth place, with the top four going up. We were very close to achieving promotion and then being able to focus on trying to go that step further and being champions. As the clichè says, tables don’t lie and you deserve to be where you at any stage of the season and anything to come can only be speculated on. We had 28 leagues, the same as most and less than others, and accumulated the biggest total of points in the given 28 opportunities/fixtures.

Mulbarton Wanderers - table toppers, but it means little now Picture: Jack Owen

Mulbarton Wanderers - table toppers, but it means little now Picture: Jack Owen - Credit: Archant

We wanted to carry the season on if possible at some stage, but the decision not to was taken with lots of considerations, I’m sure. With this in mind, our preferred method of deciding what happened to the season was the PPG (points per game average) method, for obvious reasons with us being top and points clears. We, and all clubs in our leagues, were given the opportunity to give their reasons and preference over what happens in the outcome of the season, but never given a vote and, after the decision, not really given the reasoning behind it. Because of this we immediately chose to support the appeal that has been lodged to the FA in the hope of some change, or at least some explanations, and we will see what comes of that.

Regardless of where any appeals go, we have to look forward as a club and a local football community to plan and prepare accordingly for the seasons and years ahead. I just hope everyone can cut their cloth accordingly and we don’t lose any clubs because of this, because that is the reality clubs are facing.

We will prepare as best we can by maximising our resources, and resolve to put our club and team in a strong position. The squad have committed to next season so challenging again will be the aim and the lads are already utilising their one hour of exercise outside with many runs and fitness sessions being posted in their WhatsApp group already.

To summarise, the decision is obviously disappointing after huge investment off the pitch in recent years in our facilities at the ground and time to put us in this position from an amazing few volunteers. But it hasn’t left us as a squad, committee or club having a pity party about it. All of us, from players to chairman and all in between, have galvanised and focused to begin preparing for whenever it is we start next season and being in the position again to go for promotion.

Action from a Thurlow Nunn Premier Division match between Kirkley & Pakefield and Norwich United Pic

Action from a Thurlow Nunn Premier Division match between Kirkley & Pakefield and Norwich United Picture: Bryan Grint - Credit: Archant

Both myself and joint player-manager Ben Thompson are married to NHS workers and it’s not lost on us that football isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things and we fully and wholeheartedly support all actions we need to take to keep everyone safe so we can beat this before we return to football.

Written by Mark Kemp, Lowestoft Town financial director

We, like all other clubs, especially those with potential promotion opportunities, are obviously sad that this season will be expunged from the records.

Lowestoft Town manager Jamie Godbold Picture: Shirley D Whitlow

Lowestoft Town manager Jamie Godbold Picture: Shirley D Whitlow - Credit: Picture: Shirley D Whitlow

It was clearly a difficult decision to make and these are very uncertain times as to how long the current lockdown is likely to continue. I believe the null and void declaration provides clarity for most of us, but obviously serious disappointment for others.

Directly we were comfortably safe from relegation (from the Southern Premier Central) but slightly too far away from the play-off places in a season dominated by serious injuries. We were continuing to re-build and had an exciting mix of young and experienced players developing very well as a team.

We will be grateful that the additional time allows for those that have had season-long injuries, Henry Pollock, Kieran Higgs and Shaun Bammant, in particular, will have a longer than expected period to recover their full fitness. It’s particularly disappointing for Kieran who has spent the last 12 months dedicated to recovering from his injury and was due to re-join the first team squad the day after the initial suspension was announced on March 13.

Clearly again, like all other clubs, the loss of our principal income stream through match receipts, both supporters through the turnstiles and associated match day spend, is a significant blow. We continue to work with the Southern League, in conjunction with the FA, to monitor the support available to all clubs.

Team-building wise, Jamie Godbold, Andy Reynolds and Chris Bond are continuously looking at potential players who will enhance the first team squad at Step 3 and much work has been undertaken during the past two seasons they have been in charge to develop a very competitive squad at this level. The current uncertainty makes this a difficult time for both those players already under contract and for any potential additions.

Of course, we hope that our fans will retain their support for the club when football eventually resumes, which at this stage is very unclear. Our supporters have been tremendous this season; gates are slightly increased on 2018.

Written by Norman Byrgrave, Norwich United football secretary

On hearing the news that the FA had ended the Non-League Steps 3-6 season, expunging all results in the process, my initial reaction was shock and profound disappointment.

Our manager, Cedric Anselin, assisted by Tom Marsden, had built an excellent squad that were sitting second in the Thurlow Nunn Premier Division table and looking strong favourites to finish second and guarantee the minimum of a play-off. All that hard work, from the summer beach runs in late June right through to the excellent mid-week win at Mildenhall Town on March 10, had been cut away at a stroke and thrown in the trash can.

Our 13-match unbeaten run to reach that point, the exciting 4-4 draw at Stanway, the 59 goals scored by strike duo Liam Jackson and Ben Fowkes ... all to be just a distant memory.

Cedric and Tom were quick to praise their squad in the players’ WhatsApp group, Cedric applauding the group’s sweat, determination, sacrifice, desire, application, discipline and winning mentality, Tom the levels of performance and how the team conducted themselves, both stating how proud they were.

Then the stories started to appear on social media, most notably of Jersey Bulls and Vauxhall Motors who had already ‘guaranteed’ promotion. These stories made me think this just wasn’t fair.

We had been playing to gain promotion, we had completed over 70 per cent of the season, the players should be rewarded for good performance and those teams who struggled shouldn’t necessarily be reprieved.

Also, what happens if we are unable to play again in August, After all, if we cannot recommence football until, say, October, we don’t want to lose another season when we suddenly cannot fit a whole season in a seven-month window!

So why not put this season on hold for now? Then maybe consider whether we should use points per game to determine final positions, surely a much fairer system than expunging, when we know we can recommence in August, or complete the season in the autumn or next winter without having to gain promotion in yet another reduced season.

Written by Colin Smith vice-chairman/treasurer/PR Officer at Kirkley & Pakefield

With the coronavirus affecting all our lives in some big way over the past few weeks, our health is our main priority.

We have seen the country brought to a virtual standstill, no sport and the FA decision to bring non-league football below step 3 to a close, and making the past season null and void with all points expunged.

This may have been a hastily-made decision; it’s questionable whether a points per game average should have been adopted and why no step 1 and 2 clubs at this stage?

The impact this decision has on Kirkley & Pakefield Football Club is we at least know the season is finished and will not be drawn out into the coming months.

As a mid-table step 5 Thurlow Nunn Premier Division club the final outcome for the Royals does not matter either way, but for teams who have already achieved promotion or are several points clear at the top in their leagues, such as Stowmarket Town in our own league, this must bring devastation to the club, players and supporters as I know how the Royals’ family would feel if all their good achievements over the past months meant nothing.

Thoughts also look closer to home with Waveney FC top of the Anglian Combination Premier League for the first time in their history and in the Mummery League Cup final.

The Royals’ own ‘B’ team have already won the L&DFL Division Two league with just two games to play but will they be awarded the trophy? Who knows? We go further down the leagues to youth level with all the young players that may be in for the league or cup final medals, what disappointment they could have.

The financial aspect will hit all clubs hard in different ways, but at least they know where they stand for this season.

All clubs rely are a good committee and much-appreciated volunteers. Their time has not been wasted this past season, as much as it may seem, and their efforts will be needed even more in the coming months.