The manager of one of England’s oldest non-league clubs believes the FA’s decision to expunge their season is ‘scandalous’ and fears the hasty decision could be fatal for several clubs.
Jason Huntley has taken Beckenham Town FC to the top of the Southern Counties East with promotion to the Isthmian South Division One only a few wins away.
The Becks first joined the Kent County Football association in 1887 and have serious ambition to achieve far loftier goals.
“We have got some really exceptional players here,” Huntley told talkSPORT.com.
“And it’s not going to go unnoticed that we are top of the league for a reason; we are one of the best teams in the league and we’ve been at the top for about all but three weeks of the season.
“And we’ve right got momentum in the last four games; we’ve added to the squad, bought in a new centre-forward and a centre-half and the last four games we haven’t conceded a goal and we have scored about 12 goals.
“So the momentum is going at the right time for us. But to be hit with that bombshell last week came as a massive shock to everyone.
“And we just think it is unfair with what the FA have done to be honest.”
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The bombshell Huntley is referencing is the decision by the FA to end football immediately in England below the National League’s three divisions with results expunged and no relegation or promotion from any of the 91 leagues.
Teams like Jersey Bulls of the Combined Counties Division One who have won all 27 of their league games and are mathematically promoted will be denied the chance to move up a division.
More than 100 teams have sent a letter to the Football Association urging them to ‘urgently reconsider’ their decision
A final verdict is yet to be determined for the Premier League, EFL and National League with the country gripped in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Beckenham club secretary Peter Palmer was one of the first in the country to throw his support behind the movement and Huntley believes the clubs in the upper echelons of the footballing pyramid should have their games cancelled as well in order to restore some sort of parity.
“I think the timing of it was just absolutely horrendous anyway,” he added. “I mean, what does it matter if they had said we are suspending it until further notice?
“It doesn’t make any difference, it should have all been in line with what is happening in the Premier League. I know the National League have suspended it indefinitely, but they have not null and voided it like they have to step three to seven.
“Our argument is when they want to use the pyramid, we are there to be used. They are just sort of disregarding us, at least that is how I feel, and it is not fair on all the people in and around the club because we rely on a lot of people just to help us out.
“With the amount of money our chairman has put into it this year, it’s as if they have said, ‘you’ve thrown it all away, so try again next year’. I don’t think it’s feasible or right to do that and it’s not right to treat people like that anyway.”
The community feel which one gets at a non-league club is never more evident than on a Saturday afternoon or Tuesday evening at Beckenham’s home ground on Eden Park Avenue.
Secretary Palmer has been part of the club for the entirety of his life and even helps ground staff clear the pitch if the surface is in danger of being waterlogged.
And the harsh reality is some players will struggle financially if this draconian decision is ratified by the FA Council later this week.
And Huntley insists non-league football as a whole will be changed irrevocably as a result.
“It’s going to take a hell of a lot of time and money to get it back to where it was,” he added.
“Non-league football has been flying recently as well so there is a hell of a lot of money in non-league football, so the higher you go up it gets more astronomical.
“There’s quite a lot of money floating about in our league and before it used to be little expenses; £20 and £30. But now there’s players in our league getting £300, £400 – it is ridiculous.
“And it is life-changing to not have that money, that’s a mortgage to some people as well for people who have houses and families who need feeding. We’ve got players with three kids and now they are properly struggling so it is the unknown and the uncertainty which is the worrying thing.
“But the saddest thing about this is that, when this is all over and football gets up and running again, there are going to be a hell of a lot of casualties.”
In 2002, Cray Wanderers were promoted from what was the old Kent League based on a points-per-game ratio so as to fairly determine how the season would have finished, something which Beckenham are not adverse to.
And despite the looming threat of actually being in a serious financial predicament themselves, Huntley and the rest of his squad simply want what is fair.
He added: “A week before this all happened, we still got an order from the FA to pay for next year’s FA Cup entry. So I think they want to take £150 – they’re still taking money off you when they knew full well they were going to null and void the league and stop all football.
“It is just scandalous because little things like that mean a lot to little clubs. The FA are in a position they are never going to have to be in again hopefully, not everyone is going to be happy and there are going to be arguments for and against it all.
“But they need to get into a position where it is fair. As I said, if you are top of the league, you’re there for a reason. It’s because you are the better side and we have been top of the league nearly the whole season.
“It’s not the way I would want to win it because you want to win it outright, but we certainly wouldn’t say no to that. I don’t really know what the answer is but I do hope they overturn it because first and foremost, they made a hasty decision in null and voiding our league when we have only missed two games.
“What’s the hurry with it? We’ve got loads of time, we are on top of all our games so even if they made us play Tuesday and Saturday for the rest of the season it wouldn’t matter.
“At non-league level we have people that just come down here and help around the ground and tidy the pitches and the car parks – people get so much more involved in non-league football than people realise.
“They keep talking about grassroots and bringing kids through and then they go and disregard you on the whim of nothing.”