There are three footballing matters to discuss this week: first is the suspension of non-elite football in England, second is the 2019-20 FA Sunday Cup, and the third is the challenge of how to finish the uncompleted Sunday league games.
On Monday, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the “roadmap” timetable for the UK’s route out of the Covid related lockdown restrictions. While football leagues from the National League North and South (two divisions below the professional football league) have been declared void for a second successive season, grassroots football fans will have reason to celebrate. Sunday football leagues (which had been on hiatus for the last 4 months) will be happy to hear that they may resume playing from March 29, 2021.
My opinion is that it was a mistake to void the last football season (2019-2020) when the majority of games had already been played. The FA should either have completed the season using points per game average, or allowed the outstanding season fixtures to be played between August-November 2020. That would have avoided the scenario of two consecutive null and void seasons. Two consecutive void seasons will also cause all sorts of injustice. For example, some clubs had almost unassailable leads at the top of their divisions in the 2019-20 season and were certain to be promoted. Good examples are St Panteleimon and New Salamis who were first and second of the Spartan South Midlands League and were set for promotion until the season was cancelled. They basically won all those games/did all that hard work for nothing. Two seasons later, some teams who were in promotion positions have lost players while rival teams have strengthened. This will mean that without the attraction of promotion, they may be “stuck” in their current division (which they should have been promoted out of – 2 seasons ago!).
Although England is unusual for separately grading its football based on the day of the week it is played, the suspension of the semi-professional leagues from the National League North and South downwards (who play primarily on Saturdays) and the continuation of Sunday leagues, are related. Although many Saturday semi-professional footballers look down their nose at Sunday football for being “inferior”, they may soon have to embrace the game they so disdain. Since they will not have any competitive football to play for another 6 months, joining and playing Sunday football is the most viable option for them to maintain their fitness and play football. Given that Sunday football generally has less travel than Saturday football, that could be a very attractive option for them. They can work on Saturdays and earn money to replace their lost income from not playing for their regular Saturday teams, and play on Sundays without the hassle of having to travel long distances for away games. However, joining Sunday league clubs will come with its own complications.
Firstly, if more semi-pro players start joining Sunday clubs, it could distort the balance of power and competition in Sunday leagues. Money and funding impacts football even at this amateur level. Very good Saturday players will want to play for bigger Sunday clubs who are well funded enough not to charge their players “subs” (subscription fees which Sunday clubs charge their players to cover the club’s expenses). Or the “trophy hunters” among them will want to play for the most successful Sunday clubs where they have the best chance of winning trophies. In other words, the already strong teams are likely to get even stronger.
Conversely, teams who have already been knocked out of their cup competitions or who have little chance of promotion or winning their leagues, may not be the most attractive option. In fact such clubs may lose players who do not want to play meaningless matches. In other words, the already weak teams are likely to get even weaker. Either way this could have a disruptive effect on team harmony as regular players may feel resentful if they are dropped or replaced by a semi-professional player who is joining the club temporarily.
There is also the operational challenge of how to complete the outstanding Sunday fixtures in only three months. Some clubs such as the current London Sunday champions Lambeth All Stars played only 5 league games before the Sunday league season was suspended. To complete their outstanding league and cup fixtures will require such clubs to play the dreaded “double headers” (two successive matches on the same day), and/or play midweek games. Getting players for midweek games is always a challenge as some players have work commitments during the week.
On the upside this does mean that we are likely to see a large volume of games condensed into a very short time frame.
FA SUNDAY CUP
The FA Sunday Cup is Sunday football’s answer to the FA Cup. It is a nationwide cup competition for English Sunday football clubs. Due to Covid the FA cancelled 2020-2021 edition of this competition. This was not surprising since the 2019-2020 competition has not been completed. It was suspended last year at the semi-final stage.
Of the four semi-finalists, Portland FC from south London will be flying the flag for London against St Joseph’s from Luton, Peterlee Catholic Club from Durham, and Campfield from Liverpool. Portland have been in existence for over 40 years but face a massive challenge in the semi-final. To reach the final they must beat St Joseph’s who have reached the final of this competition 5 times before. St Joseph’s can also claim to be “London slayers” as they have already eliminated two excellent clubs from London in earlier rounds. They beat London champions Lambeth All Stars (who are widely hailed as one of the best Sunday teams in the south-east of the UK) in round 3, and in round 4 they also beat the highly rated Sporting Club de Mundial from the Hackney & Leyton League.
The second semi-final will feature Campfield; who were the 2015 FA Sunday Cup winners, and two time former champions of the Liverpool Business Houses League (which is probably the strongest Sunday league in the entire UK, and in which several other FA Sunday Cup winners have played in). Campfield’s semi-final opponents Peterlee Catholic Club represent a social club in County Durham and are the reigning champions of the Peterlee & District Sunday League (which they won in the 2019-20 season after winning every single game). In fact they have won their league two times in the last three seasons. They are also currently top of their league this season, and are again undefeated with a 100% record.
The FA intends to complete the competition by June. It is great to have Sunday football back, and I am very much looking forward to see various competitions restart, and who will be crowned Sunday champions of England.