05:00PM, Wednesday 06 January 2021
Marlow boss Mark Bartley is seeking pragmatic and strong leadership from the Isthmian League in the coming weeks as they look to come up with a workable solution for completing the campaign.
The Isthmian League South Central division has been suspended until further notice due to the country entering another national lockdown, and Bartley believes the league and FA will have to get creative if they’re to bring the season to a satisfactory conclusion whilst maintaining promotion and relegation.
He admits it’s not an easy task but believes ‘dithering and hesitancy’ has already cost them the chance of playing six or seven more matches – contests that could have been key to the season being played out in full.
The FA has said it’s willing to extend the season to the end of May, however, with restrictions unlikely to be eased until the middle of next month at the earliest, leagues are going to have to cram a lot of matches into a relatively short window.
“It’s a nightmare situation,” said Bartley. “But the difference this season is that we can’t null and void, there needs to be promotion and relegation this year.
“That’s the big difference. All of the guidance we got this season was that they wanted steps three and four to be able to promote and relegate.
“But there has to be a fair way to do this.”
Bartley doesn’t know what options the league and FA are considering for steps three and four, but managers at that level have been kicking around a few different solutions which could be used to bring the season to a close if there’s not enough time to play all of the matches.
“There’s an acceptance we’ll have to play Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Tuesday because of the shortened period to finish these matches,” he said.
“With our league, there’s a suggestion we should split it into two 10 team leagues.
“You would play each team twice and would then qualify for play-offs, a bit like what happens in America. Or there’s an option in Scotland where the league is split in half. The top teams play each other once more and the bottom teams play each other once more and you work out from that which teams would go into the play-offs and which would be relegated.
“A third option is having a mini tournament, like a World Cup or European Championships. The league would be split into groups of five or six teams.
“However, the ideal scenario is that we would go back and finish the games as normal.
“If we’re unable to do that the least favourable of those options would be the tournament format.
“You could fall foul of being placed in a strong group. We could play Uxbridge, Hanwell and Bracknell for example.
“If they have to do it, they have to do it, and we don’t fear anyone. But someone could get relegated because they’re in a stronger geographical area.”
Whatever happens, Bartley hopes the powers that be opt against calculating teams’ final positions on a points-per-game (PPG) calculation.
“There might be a club who benefits because they’ve got a really difficult run in,” he said. “They might have to play the top six sides in the last six weeks of the season and then, all of a sudden they don’t have to play those teams twice. Whatever happens it will be far from ideal, but I would rather the league is split in some form. I can work with that and would back my team to compete with anyone.
“I don’t want to miss out on promotion or a play-off spot on a PPG calculation by a point when we’ve played all the top sides twice.”
He added: “My biggest frustration with all this has been the lack of leadership. We’ve needed clear direction through this period, someone to say, ‘this isn’t an ideal situation, but we’re going to be pragmatic about it and this is what we’re going to do’.
“I get that we’ve all been paused now, but we had three or four weeks when we could have played six or seven fixtures in our league.
“That could have made the difference in us finishing the league or not, but this dithering and hesitancy from those who are making the decisions has been unfortunate,” he added.
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