Southern Combination football clubs told: September start possible - but by no means certain
The new Southern Combination Football League season may start in September - but that is still by no means certain.
The league was involved in a 90-minute conference call set by the FA at the end of last week to update those at steps five and six of the non-league pyramid on work going on behind the scenes to plan for the return of grass-roots football.
They were warned of FA funding cuts which would affect all levels of the game plus a reduction in FA Cup and FA Vase prize money.
There's also a danger the Cup and Vase competitions may have to be shortened, depending on how late the 20-21 season starts, and that would mean fewer rounds and fewer clubs qualifying to play in them.
FA officials have presented the step five and six leagues with a number of scenarios regarding when the season may start - and these range from August to around November.
SCFL chairman Steve Nealgrove said the FA had clearly done a lot of work on the issue and he stressed that the league could only act on advice from the FA - who in turn could only get things moving with government approval.
Some left the conference call with the impression that a September start to the grass-roots season was the most likely outcome, but Nealgrove said he did not get the idea that any one start was more likely then any other.
"I think a September start is possible, and maybe something that many are starting to think will happen, but no-one can say at present it is certain or even very likely," said Nealgrove.
Changes to rules on social distancing and the reopening of facilities such as bars will clearly have a big influence on when non-league football can restart but Nealgrove said clubs at their level would still have a tough job on their hands to make sure rules were adhered to once fans were allowed into grounds. Enforcement would be difficult at clubs not overflowing with volunteers and stewards.
If the SCFL season can start in September, a full campaign should be possible. But if it cannot, officials will have to start looking at calling off cup competitions. The league and the need for a full set of fixtures will take precedence over any local cups.
Nealgrove said the loss of some FA Cup and FA Vase funding, and the possibility entry to them will be scaled back so all rounds can be fitted in, would be a blow to many clubs.
But he said the SCFL had already found ways to reduce the annual financial burden on their clubs, with some fees being waived for a year and more free footballs being provided.
The SCFL has already put its annual meeting back from June to July - bosses hope an actual rather than a virtual meeting, with one delegate per club, may be possible before July is out.
With no promotion or relegation for clubs at step three and below, the make-up of the SCFL's divisions for 20-21 will be largely the same as in 19-20, although Sidlesham and Cowfold have been lost from the line-up over the past year. The proposed constitution of all leagues at this level is due to go to the FA Council for approval on July 14.
The lockdown has also hit the SCFL's plans to celebrate its centenary in 20-21. They still hope to stage events later in the season to mark 100 years since their founding.
Nealgrove said the SCFL would do its very best to keep all clubs informed of further news and he concluded: "It's a minefield and the most important thing is that no-one wants to see any lives lost because of a game of football. My playing days were over a long time ago but for the players of today, there will be another day, another season, to play.
"Football, like everything, will be different when we come back but we all look forward to the day when that first game can be played."