Harrogate Railway chief Mick O'Connell believes NCEL season should have been curtailed sooner

Harrogate Railway manager Mick O’Connell welcomed the move to curtail the 2020/21 season for clubs at steps three to six of the non-league pyramid, but feels a decision could have been made sooner.

Saturday, 6th March 2021, 8:00 am
Updated Saturday, 6th March 2021, 8:06 am
Harrogate Railway manager Mick O'Connell. Picture: Gerard Binks

The Football Association (FA) acted last week after 76 per cent of teams who are members of these leagues indicated a preference to abandon the current campaign if their remaining matches could not be played in front of supporters before April 1.

This means that, unlike the 2019/20 season – which was declared null and void – results from 2020/21 will remain on-the-record with tables as they are set to be taken as final standings.

Railway play their football in Northern Counties East League (NCEL) Division One and had completed just eight of their scheduled 38 league fixtures when the campaign was suspended indefinitely in early January.

“To be honest, I’m just glad a decision has finally been made,” O’Connell told the Harrogate Advertiser.

“It’s been a bit of a farce all year in my opinion. It’s no fault of anyone in particular and obviously it has been a difficult decision. Whatever the FA opted to do, there was always going to be someone unhappy, but curtailing the season could have happened a lot sooner.

“Around Christmas everyone realised how serious things were getting again with coronavirus. Once football was suspended and we got to the end of January and teams like us still had 30 fixtures left to play, it was clear that there was never any chance of finishing the season.

“You can’t realistically be asking lads to play Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday week after week to fit all the games in. Players have jobs, families, mortgages to pay.

“I’m just pleased that we know where we stand and can now draw a line under it all.”

There had been suggestions that an NCEL League Cup competition could take place once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, but these plans have now been scrapped.

A statement released by the NCEL management committee explained: ‘We voted not to stage a competition for our member clubs, believing it is not feasible at the moment due to no spectators being allowed in until at least May 17, with no income from clubhouses and snack bars, etc.'