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Paul Doswell: Null & Void decision needs a re-think

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Northern Premier League

Paul Doswell believes the likes of South Shields, who have been on the rise in recent seasons, have been hard done by with the null and void decision

Exclusive NLP column by Havant & Waterlooville manager Paul Doswell

Will The FA overturn the decision to null and void all the leagues from Steps 3-7? With what we now know, they absolutely must.

The leagues and FA made that call back in March in good faith. But it has turned out to be one of the worst decisions that has ever been made in English football.

If we’re talking about the life of the football pyramid, you cannot tie the Premier League to the EFL, the EFL to the National League and then suddenly stop at Step 2. It’s so unjust in so many ways. If only they’d waited before declaring it null and void. 

The National League cannot, and will not, make one announcement until the EFL end up announcing what they will do in League One and League Two. Even then it’s going to be subject to the play-offs happening in the EFL. 

If we are tied to the EFL – as we’ve been told we are – then the National League must follow with promotion and relegation. They’ve also told us the North and South won’t be treated differently to the National League at Step 1. That was a clear statement. Our big concern was the North and South divisions would be stitched up and there would only be promotion into the EFL with no relegation. 

The fairest way to end this is for the National League play-offs to take place. I’m advocating we play them. That’s number one: If possible the play-offs should be played.

Every day the protocol from the government is changing. Clearly we can’t test ourselves three times a week, disinfect footballs and our pitches. That’s just not going to happen.

So let’s see if they can take place in a ‘Covid Clean’ environment at St George’s Park. 

The Eliminator games could be played on the first Saturday. The semi-finals on Wednesday. The final a few days later on Saturday. All done and dusted in a week with each league taking its turn. 

As I understand it, St George’s has that capability. 

Already the testing is becoming more and more available for the general public. As I’ve said, the government guidance is fluid and evolving. In the next month, it could well be that anybody can go and get a test to see if you are positive or negative. That would lessen the financial burden.

At St George’s there could be temperature checks and monitoring before a final test.

I’m giving this no more than a five per cent chance of happening. But I would prefer fairness for everybody. At the start of the season, the rules were the top team goes up, then second to seventh go into the play-offs. If PPG is followed on that basis, Barrow, Wealdstone and King’s Lynn deserve their promotion. 

Paul Doswell

Havant & Waterlooville manager Paul Doswell

If we can’t get the play-offs played, the top two must be promoted from each league. Barrow and Harrogate Town in the National League, York City and King’s Lynn from National League North and, I’ve got no hesitation in saying, Wealdstone and Havant & Waterlooville from National League South. That would mean three teams relegated from the National League on the account of the Bury situation.

If that happens it should be the exact same principle for the leagues below. Whatever the National League do, is what Steps 3-7 should do. If everyone up to the Championship accepts Points Per Game, surely we can do that at Steps 3-7. 

Yes, it was right the season was finished. But it could have been cancelled with the alternatives to be discussed. They had to be more patient. 

The picture of the coronavirus outbreak looks completely different now to even a week ago. Things are looking a lot brighter. It could be the government say in July or August that social distancing now only needs to be one metre. It could be they say certain outdoor events can take place. 

That’s why I wouldn’t rule anything out and that the play-offs can take place further down the line.

It’s a fast-moving feast. All you have to do is stay patient. No one needs to know the final answer on play-offs today.

There does have to be a cut-off point. If the play-offs can’t be played by July 31, then promotion has to be completed with the top two based on points per game. But let’s give it time. Eight weeks in this context is a long period. 

It’s also why the FA shouldn’t be afraid to make a new decision. To me it would show they are being humble and they would be applauded. 

How can you deny Jersey Bulls and Vauxhall Motors when they were mathematically promoted? How can you deny South Shields when they were so nearly there? As you go down the Pyramid to Step 7, I guarantee there will be teams there winning games by double-figures. If they stay in the division again, it will be a farce for another year. They need to be promoted. 

I’ve managed at those levels. When I took over at Eastleigh we were top of the Wessex League by 20 points. I can only imagine the feeling if I got a phone call saying no promotion.

You put the same emotion and work into it. Volunteers put the same effort in. The achievement of gaining promotion is what everyone sets out to achieve at the start of the season. It doesn’t matter if you’ve only got 50 people watching you or 50,000 people, the principle is entirely the same. 

There needs to be a concerted effort from everyone in football for the decision to be changed. It has become abundantly clear it is the wrong one.

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