A row has erupted over a ‘common-sense approach’ made to allow Howards FC to remain in a league cup final being over-ruled by Suffolk FA, following the intervention of the club’s biggest rivals.
Howards beat Gym United 1-0 after extra-time on January 17 to progress through to the Bury & District Sunday League’s Days Sportswear Division One Knockout Cup final, to be played at Bury Town’s Ram Meadow ground.
But Howards were this week told they have been removed from the competition and replaced by rivals Gym United for fielding an ineligible player — despite the league admitting it was their administration error that saw long-serving player James Attwood registered after the cut-off date.
The Bury & District Sunday League made the decision to apply a common-sense ruling, given the registration forms were signed by Howards and sent to them before the season start date of September 1. But Gym United were unhappy with it and took the issue to Suffolk FA, who over-ruled the league after holding a hearing with just Gym officials, amid claims - not accepted by Suffolk FA - it was moved to a date without them being notified.
Bury District & Sunday League chairman Stuart Chapman accepted that the league were to blame for processing the online registration after the cut-off date, having received ‘a deluge’ of mail over the bank holiday weekend.
But he likened it to his tax returns, saying if clubs are meeting the registration date it must be accepted they have made the cut-off, even if the administration time can take longer to process.
“Howards have done nothing wrong whatsoever, and like everything in a dispute, it will go to the technicality of the rules,” he said.
“We applied what I would think was a common-sense approach. The matter was appealed by Gym FC to Suffolk FA who ruled that as the registration was not on the online system, the player was not registered and therefore was not eligible to play — therefore the game would be awarded to Gym FC.
“As a league we have to accept the FA ruling.
“The league management committee is shortly to meet to review the registration process and apologise to the player and clubs concerned.”
Manager of Howards FC, Steve Holder, a former Bury Town, Mildenhall Town and Needham Market striker, said the whole episode has left a bitter taste with everyone at the club.
“The player in question has served Howards for over 10 years — longer than Gym United have been in existence,” he said.
“The league have given us their full backing and we would like to put on record our thanks to Stuart Chapman (league chairman)for his continued support. We are understandably surprised and disappointed by the Suffolk FA ruling. We would like to know why the hearing was moved without the league being notified.”
Suffolk FA’s statement countered that by saying: “Two dates were offered to the league who declined both of them and said they were happy for the matter to be dealt with in their absence to speed up the process.”
Holder added: “I feel sorry for the players who performed so well in the semi-final and have not been rewarded for their efforts.
“That game was basically (semi-professional) Walsham-le-Willows versus The Dog and Duck — a match where the underdogs came out on top.
“They can take our place in the final, but they can’t rewrite history: 1-0 Howards, Matty Hayden the goalscorer.”
A spokesman for Suffolk FA confirmed they had over-ridden the league’s decision for Howards fielding an ineligible player, with the usual protocol followed of awarding the tie to their opponents.
On Chapman’s suggestion of an overhaul of the way the cut-off dates are managed, Suffolk FA said: “Each league has to abide by the FA Standard Code of Rules which includes details of players needing to be registered. Each league will have their own process and we are aware that the Bury & District Sunday League will be looking to review this.”