04:41PM, Wednesday 17 June 2020
Slough Town’s joint boss Neil Baker believes it’s a ‘no brainer’ for clubs to pass this week’s amended resolution which would see placings decided on a points-per-game basis and play-off matches staged at step two.
Only a handful of clubs – likely those in the National League relegation zone – are set to vote against the proposal which Maidenhead United chairman Peter Griffin this week admitted seemed like the fairest option.
The resolution will see Barrow promoted as champions from the National League and Chorley, AFC Fylde and Ebbsfleet United relegated.
Wealdstone would go up from National League South with the winners of the play-offs to join them, while Kings Lynn leapfrog York City to take the National League North championship. They’d be joined in the top division by the winners of the play-offs.
Step two sides will need to show they can put the protocols in place to stage play-off matches safely, while COVID-19 tests would need to be carried out on squads when they return to first team, full contact, training.
Baker has said this is likely to be just a week before their first play-off game, at home to Dartford, on July 18.
He is also confident that all the teams involved in the play-offs at step two would stretch to meet the costs, which could be anything between £15,000 and £50,000 depending on how quickly teams return to full training.
The play-off semi-finals at step two are pencilled in for July 25 and were they to beat Dartford, the Rebels would play either Havant & Waterlooville or Weymouth.
The final is scheduled for August 1, but these plans are subject to change or even cancellation due to COVID-19.
“There’s a caveat which the EFL have also got,” said Baker. “It’s a caveat that says things could change if there’s a second wave or if the government makes changes to the steps. It’s not anything that’s specific to step two.
“If things stay as they are then we should be playing play-offs. We will have to take on the various testing bits but we should be ok with that and what we need to do. We’ll come back late and a lot of the players will need to do stuff on their own prior to coming back to get themselves fit which they do anyway. We’ll comeback to full contact training in the week leading up to the first game.
“It should pass. You’ll have three teams in the National Premier who won’t vote for it, but then most will vote for it in the South and North. It’s a no brainer for most so should be a box ticking exercise.”
There was huge opposition from National League North and South clubs to the original resolution which was put to all the clubs last week. That proposal would have seen play-offs at step two cancelled, with the board advising that ‘the government’s policy on the return of elite sports behind closed doors did not include step two football’. Despite this, and talk of the prohibitive cost of testing for step two clubs, a campaign was launched by the clubs involved which managed to prove there was no directive from government that applied to step two level clubs.
“When we heard the reasons that were given at the meeting I don’t think any of us were happy,” said Baker. “I don’t think any of us could believe that the government would have got involved in that. It set alarm bells ringing.
“When we asked if the league could go back to the government and put our case forward they said they weren’t going to do that because the costs (for step two clubs) would be too much. I think that got everyone’s back up because, whether it’s expensive or not, that’s our decision to make.
“It got us all talking afterwards and that started the #promote2 campaign. The smoking gun as such was the MP for Havant, Alan Mak, who managed to get information from government on the matter so quickly.
“Look, I’m not pointing fingers but someone, somewhere along the line has not done their due diligence. You’re talking about 12 teams who have paid a lot of money to get into the positions they were in and we were all dismissed without anyone being sure. For me that’s not right, but that’s for another day. Questions need to be answered because the advise they gave us was incorrect. It was either a misunderstanding or it’s deliberate, and it’s up to the powers that be to investigate that.”
Baker said the players will themselves step up their individual training in the coming weeks ahead of their return to competitive action, however he doesn’t anticipate the squad getting together for group training until a week before the first scheduled play-off match against Dartford on July 18. For now Baker is just glad that they should be given the opportunity when it looked to have been taken away from them just a few days ago.
“It’s brilliant for us to be involved in this,” he said. “It will be surreal but you’re three games away from being promoted to the National Premier. Which for us as a club and managers would be an incredible achievement.
“We’ll play Dartford at home and Bath will play Dorking Wanderers at home. The winners will then play Havant and Weymouth away respectively. Us or Dartford would then travel to Havant in the semi final. It’s a shame we can’t share it with the fans but everyone is in the same boat. It might make home advantage count less but we’ll have to wait and see.
“I think all clubs will want to play them (play-offs). Gateshead are the only ones at the moment who might not want to play. But there will be enough teams to do it. They will all do their due diligence and will work out what they can do and what they can’t do. They’ll realise it’s not as expensive as the league was making out. It’s about being safe and sensible. We would look to start testing the week before because that’s the first week we would get together for contact training and it’s what we can afford.”
Clubs have until 5pm this evening (Wednesday) to return their votes. If the resolution passes as expected the FA’s Council will be asked to ratify the decision.
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