Stowmarket Town chairman Neil Sharp says club will fight FA decision to deny them and others chance of promotion
Stowmarket Town chairman Neil Sharp has revealed his club are joining forces with others to fight the FA decision to take away their right to achieve promotion as he looks to protect the integrity of non-league.
On Thursday afternoon clubs across the country at Steps 3-6 of the non-league pyramid were told the Football Association had decided to terminate their seasons with immediate effect and expunge all results, meaning no promotion or relegation ahead of 2020/21.
Stowmarket Town, who were 15 points clear at the top of the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division at the time, having not lost a game with 10 games to go of a 38-game campaign, were one of the hardest hit.
But while their manager Rick Andrews was among those on the playing side who had given interviews saying they would have to 'take it on the chin' and move on, their chairman has now outlined a different approach.
His name is among 60 clubs who have signed a petition to the FA which now looks set to go through Parliament. He has pointed to how not implementing a standardised approach across non-league, with the National League at Steps 1 and 2 still looking like they could try and play out the remainder of their campaigns to a finish, was wrong and would have big financial implications, including from sponsorship streams.
The full statement, released on the club's website this afternoon, read: "Firstly, to all the staff, fans, sponsors, and volunteers of our great club, I hope that you are all keeping well and following the government guidelines.
"I have deliberately taken my time to digest the FA's decision and to look at the consequences of such a move.
"In the background, the board have been working tirelessly, like any small business, to put measures in place for our survival, and make no mistake many clubs are now fighting to survive.
"What makes this even more difficult is trying to plan whilst under the backdrop of a human crisis unlike anything we have seen before.
"So what do we do? Sit back and do nothing because there are more important things in life? Or, hope that a future is still possible and plan for it now whilst all this is going on?
"It is very hard but planning now is a necessity. So whilst we keep all those affected in our thoughts and prayers, we plan, plan and plan.
"Our club survives due to the fans coming through the turnstiles and the generosity of the local businesses.
"With no fans, we have no income to pay the staff. With businesses equally struggling, we have no guaranteed future income from them either. Hence our dilemma… all whilst the bills need paying.
"The FA's decision last week talked about the 'integrity of the game' and this is where I feel the biggest problem lies. They have forgotten about the integrity at our level.
"At non-league level, all clubs need sponsors to survive and those said sponsors, quite rightly, will look at our game and think 'What's the point in sponsoring X club?' They are clearly in a sport that treat the very top differently from the very bottom. They obviously only look after the elite.'”
"And this is the crux of the issue.
"If the FA are going to continue the season above Step 3, they need to understand the true impact of not giving the same courtesy to our level and lower in the footballing pyramid. We need help to survive.
"On the flipside, if every level was treated the same and to quote one of our sponsors 'If all football was treated the same, it would be easier to understand. But why should we put our money into something that is seen as unimportant by the people at the top?'
"With this in mind, we intend to work with other clubs to lobby the FA to rethink their decision or to at least tell us how they can reassure businesses that non league football DOES matter.
"Due to the FA deadlines, and their rules about infrastructure changes if you are promoted, clubs are pushed into planning early if they have a good chance of promotion. That was clearly our position last month.
"To that end, we have spent many a late hour and many thousands of pounds planning. All of which is now wasted.
"As I said at the start, it is very hard to plan and fight back when all this is going on around us.
"But what do we do? Sit back and watch our club disappear? Or fight back. To safeguard our own integrity, we intend to fight.
"Thank you to all the fans, volunteers, staff, players, management and sponsors for an incredible 2019/20 season. It is not quite over yet!"
More by this authorRussell Claydon