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Sweetman's slim hopes for non-league clubs are extinguished

Earlier this week Holyport boss Derek Sweetman felt there was a small chance that non-league clubs below step 3 would be able to continue playing through the national lockdown.

He was hoping the Government would see that matches could take place safely with fans, but he wasn’t about to put his mortgage on it. He was right not to put his house on that bet as on Tuesday, the FA confirmed a four-week suspension of all non-elite football matches and training.

Sweetman can understand why they’re doing it, but he had hoped it would be different.

Holyport have started the season well and sit second in the Hellenic League Division 1 East table, but they’ll have to wait a little while now for their promotion hunt to resume. Sweetman believes a top four finish will be good enough to be promoted to a new league being formed at step five.

“There are conversations going on between the leagues and the Government about the possibility of us playing on at our level,” he said. “There’s an outside chance but I wouldn’t put my mortgage on it, let’s put it that way.

“At the moment it’s looking like we could return on Saturday, December 5. It’s frustrating because non-league clubs like ours have covered every single aspect of safety regarding COVID. I understand why they’re doing it, we’ve got to get the figures down, but if anyone can social distance, it’s non-league football.

“Very few clubs get enough fans in through the gate to pack a place out. Going up a few levels, yeah, I understand it. If you’ve got a few thousand people in a stadium it could cause a few problems. But, at our level, you can safely have 80-90 people spread around the place and it would still look like there’s only one man and his dog watching the game.”

Four weeks without training or football will be tough for the club, but Sweetman says they’ve just got to sit tight and be patient. It’s not going to be the most straight forward of seasons, but, if it can be completed in a reasonable time frame, there’s a big prize at the end of it for Holyport.

“We’ve already been through a shortened pre-season,” said Sweetman.

“The players are only just getting up to speed for the games and now it’s been pulled again. When we do come back, we would need a week or two and maybe a friendly to just get that work ethic back into the bodies. It takes you a while to get ready to play football for whatever level you play at.

“If you don’t play for four weeks you lose a lot. You can do a lot of Zoom calls and spinning bikes, but there’s nothing like 90 minutes on a Saturday.”

He added: “As far as we’re aware the rules are the same as last year. So, if we finish in the top four, we would go up. So, we’re hoping that will stay in place of course. We’re fortunate in that we’ve had a couple of teams drop out so that’s four less games from our normal programme, which could be helpful.

“I just hope that we can carry on as normal after this break, but I wouldn’t put my house on that either.”

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