Ebbsfleet United have been unsuccessful in convincing the FA Alliance Committee to reinstate them to the National League following relegation on points-per-game in the 2019-20 season.
The National League South club were unable to win their place back on the pitch this year after clubs voted to curtail the 2020-21 campaign at Step 2 in February.
With the top-flight currently running with 23 teams – one short of the usual 24 – Fleet attempted to be reinstated.
The Kent-based side were relegated by 0.001 of a point when the 2019-20 campaign was decided on points-per-game which saw Barrow as champions and Chorley and AFC Fylde sent down with Ebbsfleet.
The club explained: “We made representations to the League and FA Alliance Committee to have rule 5.5.2 of the FA laws applied. Given the unique circumstances that led to our relegation last season, and us being one of only two clubs in the UK pyramid to be dropped into a relegation position by Points Per Game, we felt application of the rule under the laws was not only fair, but entirely reasonable.
“5.5.2 states that where a vacancy exists in Step 1, the highest-ranked relegated team of the previous season is to fill that vacancy. On that basis, given there remains only 23 clubs in Step 1 and an obvious vacancy, we felt it reasonable and were confident that the FA Alliance Committee would enable that rule and bring Step 1 to its full complement of 24 teams for next season.
“Unfortunately a number of emergency rule changes were made during the last season due to the pandemic; one of those was a change which altered rule 5.5.2. The wording was changed so that any vacancy that existed would be filled at the absolute discretion of the FA Alliance Committee and FA Council. We put forward our case that given the circumstances and nature of our relegation, that despite the rule not being “hard and fast” for this season due to the amendments, it stands to reason that the spirit of the rule could and should still be applied at the discretion of the committee.
“Alas we were recently informed that despite their understanding and the strong case that we presented, the FA Alliance Committee would be recommending to the FA Council that the number of clubs for Steps 1 and 2 remain as they are for next season. The feedback we had was that by filling a vacancy at Step 1, a precedent would be set for filling vacancies at Step 2 and below, and given the lack of completed seasons at those levels it would be a difficult task in identifying which clubs were most deserving of filling those vacancies.
“We countered that whilst we appreciated and understood that position, as we were one of only three clubs relegated in the entire pyramid below the EFL last season and no relegation was effected from Steps 2 or below, that we would hope our colleagues at other clubs through the pyramid would have understood and supported the vacancy at Step 1 being filled under the rules.
“Despite our best endeavours we have once again fallen on the wrong side of a considered decision that had to be made for the entire pyramid. We appreciate the consideration and the very difficult task the League and FA have in pleasing everyone during these unprecedented disruptions and conditions that the pandemic has created, but we are so disappointed for our staff, players and most of all our supporters. They have accepted that one or two clubs had to be extremely unlucky last season to please the majority when finalising leagues but we are incredibly disappointed that we have not been able convince the FA Alliance Committee of the merit and inherent fairness of using the rules at hand to fill an obvious vacancy in the National League with the highest-ranked relegated club.
“Our final finishing position in a full season was third last on Points Per Game in the National League/Step 1 in 2019/20 and unfortunately we have not had the chance to win or fight our way to promotion in a null and void league in 2020/21. Emergency temporary rules have made obsolete the mandated method of filling the existing vacancy at Step 1 that would rightfully be ours under the rules as they stand in any other year.
“The leagues will now go forward for next season with 23 clubs in the National League, 22 in National League North and 21 in National League South and unless a substantial change of mind occurs at League or FA level in the next few weeks, we will focus on working hard on our campaign to return to Step 1 as soon as possible beginning next season.”