Non-league football awaits lockdown fate - and pleads for green light

Non-league football is in a strange state of limbo today as clubs, officials and fans up and down the country wait to see which levels of the game will be allowed to continue in the new UK lockdown.

Sunday, 1st November 2020, 12:13 pm
Updated Sunday, 1st November 2020, 12:16 pm
Eastbourne Borough celebrate a goal in their 2-1 win over Welling - and they look like being one of the lucky ones allowed to carry on playing / Picture: Andy Pelling

The best guess is that all 'elite' leagues which have been allowed to play in recent months but have had to do so behind closed doors will be allowed to carry on under the same conditions.

That would mean no break in play for the Premier League, Football League and National League - meaning, in Sussex, Brighton, Crawley Town and Eastbourne Borough would play on.

But the picture is very much more doubtful for leagues from step three downwards - so that's everything from the Isthmian League and Southern League down to the Southern Combination and beyond.

The FA tweeted late on Saturday night: "We acknowledge the government’s announcement today regarding COVID-19 restrictions and are awaiting further information before we can confirm how this may affect non-elite football across England. We will communicate any necessary updates in due course."

BBC Sport reported that guidance was being drawn up to goverrn how grass-roots sport would be affected but added: "Sources have indicated to BBC Sport that is unlikely that grassroots team sport will be permitted to continue."

There is already widespread concern being aired on social media on the effect on the well-being of players and fans should grass-roots football be suspended again, with pressure being put on politicians and the FA to make sure it does not happen, An online petition has been started which you can support here.

That of course raises a lot of questions - not least regarding the FA Cup, where a mixture of elite and non-elite teams are due to do battle in next weekend's first round.

At least the big tie in Sussex - Eastbourne Borough v Blackpool - looks safe. But nine of the 40 round one ties involve teams from non-elite leagues.

If football at step three and below is stopped once again it will be a body blow for clubs and fans. Matches with limited crowd numbers - 600 the maximum at step three - have been taking place since August and in the main they have been held without problems.

Social distancing and other Covid protocols are in place and club officials and volunteers have worked hard - often day and night - to get systems in place to make sure their grounds are safe for spectators.

And spare a particular thought for the likes of Worthing FC and Hastings United FC. Both led their Isthmian League divisions last March when football was suspended only to be deprived of their likely titles and promotions when the 2019-20 season was declared null and void. Both now lead those same divisions again - only to, potentially, be stopped in their tracks again.

We will update this story and post new information on this website once things become clearer for football and other sports.