Doubt has been cast over the start date of this season’s Ryman League as Thurrock continue to fight their relegation from the Premier Division.
Fleet received a three-point deduction a month after the season had ended for playing suspended Joel Barnett at the start of the campaign, condemning them to life in Ryman One North.
However, after appeals were rejected by the league and the Football Association, Thurrock have issued a notice of arbitration, meaning an independent panel will finally bring a close to the matter in three to four weeks — which could be beyond the league’s scheduled start of August 10.
Bury Town manager Richard Wilkins, whose side are due to travel to East Thurrock United on the opening day, said: “It’s a difficult situation. I don’t know why it’s taken so long to sort — I really don’t.”
Thurrock have decided against going through the European Court of Arbitration for Sport, a process which would have taken almost four times as long, and instead hope an independent arbitration panel will get their points reinstated, which would then condemn Carshalton Athletic to relegation.
Tilbury also played Barnett — who owed just £16 in fines after one of his former clubs folded — and were deducted 18 points, but it did not affect their Ryman One North status.
Needham Market manager Mark Morsley believes Thurrock are in the right in their protest and that more clubs could end up being caught out because there is no national list of suspended players, it is instead created locally.
“The whole situation is one of the most disgraceful things I’ve seen in all my years in non-League football,” he said. “Frankly it is a shambles and appalling.”
Morsley — whose side are due to kick-off their Ryman One North campaign at home to Romford on August 10 — is also concerned with the knock-on affect a delayed start could have on his and other clubs in the league.
He said: “It is in contracts that on August 10 clubs will start paying wages to players and, without that guarantee of gate receipts, it could potentially cause serious financial trouble.”