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Northern Premier clubs want answers over Darlington decision

Pic: Tim Hickman

PROMOTION-chasing Northern Premier League clubs are upset they’re still in the dark over the league’s decision to suspend Darlington 1883’s 12-point deduction for fielding an ineligible player.

Workington, Nantwich Town, Salford City, Blyth Spartans and Rushall Olympic have been frustrated in their attempts to obtain an explanation why the Quakers have kept points won when playing Anthony Bell without international clearance earlier this season.

Bell, who joined the club as a free agent after his release from Cardiff City, was part of Darlo’s team when they earned 13 points with wins against Colwyn Bay, Blyth Spartans, Halesowen, Ramsbottom and a draw against Ilkeston.

Bell also played in their FA Cup defeat to Hyde United before he joined Northern League Shildon where the problem came to light.

Shildon were ordered to replay their league game with Ashington. Darlington were charged and found guilty under Rule 6.9: Playing an Ineligible Player. It is a standardised rule across the National League System.

Crucially the rule wording allows leagues to show discretion and after a panel – understood to contain no one connected to Premier Division clubs – heard Darlington’s mitigating circumstances, the maximum 12-point deduction was suspended.

When the outcome was announced before Christmas, a statement confirmed neither the league or Darlington, who were also fined, would make any further comment. Workington chairman Glenn Heathcote believes that’s unfair.

Issue

“It’s important to say we don’t have an issue with Darlington,” Heathcote said. “They’ve been found guilty but their directors have done as much as they could to protect the interests of their club. We would all have done that, so that’s not a problem.

“Our issue is with the league. First and foremost with the decision they’ve taken, secondly that the other clubs have no right of appeal and thirdly, which is very curious, the fact they won’t enter into any dialogue about the decision.

“They just won’t say anything to us. Because we can’t appeal against it, it denies us a bit of natural justice really.

“We spoke to the FA and while we had their sympathy, their legal department advised against direct intervention from the FA.

“Just because the league have got the right to make the decision, doesn’t mean to say the decision is right.”

Following Saturday’s 3-0 home win over Colwyn Bay, Darlington are two points outside the play-off places with up to seven games in hand on the six clubs above them.

Heathcote added: “If you look further ahead to the end of the season, there’s going be at least one club impacted if Darlington finish in the top five and are less than 12 points clear of sixth place. The team who finishes sixth is going to be denied at least a play-off place because of this decision.

“It could be worse because if Darlington finish top and are less than 12 points ahead of second place, the team who finishes second will be denied automatic promotion. So it’s quite a serious decision that they’ve taken. All we want is the answer to the question: Why has this come about?”

Nantwich chairman Tony Davison added: “It’s all about consistency. Several of us have had charges for fielding ineligible players in recent seasons, and we’ve gone down to Wembley to fight our corner, but still been deducted points.

“We would like to know why Darlington haven’t lost those points in this case, but the league are refusing to explain.”

NPL chairman Mark Harris said: “It is long-standing Northern Premier League policy not to comment on any individual hearing.

“The panel dealt with this particular hearing in accordance with Rule 6.9. As it says, ‘the company may vary this decision in respect of the points gained only in circumstances where the ineligibility is due to the failure to obtain an International Transfer Certificate’.”

The FA declined to comment.

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