THE decision to blow the whistle on the Saturday amateur football season has been backed by Rotherham's three highest ranked clubs.
The FA curtailed all football at Steps 3-6 of the non-league pyramid after a nationwide survey showed 76 per cent of clubs didn't want to play on.
Maltby Main, Parkgate and Swallownest were among that majority and believe common sense has prevailed.
Even though the trio will now have to wait five months before playing competitive football in the Northern Counties East League again, all agreed there were too many complications in trying to claw back lost fixtures with the summer months so near.
Maltby chairman Wilf Race said: “Some teams (who were vying for promotion) will be bitterly disappointed and some, like Athersley Rec, who were stranded at the bottom of the league, will be 100 per cent relieved.
“We think it's the right decision and we have something to aim for now, which is next season.”
Like other leagues, the NCEL were given the option by the FA to play until the end of June to try and fulfil fixtures.
But aside from the headache of raising players to play in the summer holiday season, the problem for many clubs at their level in the meantime was the continuing absence of spectators in line with continuing Government lockdown guidance.
Parkgate manager Andy Dawson said: “There is a cost element to the games. Travel expenses, getting kit washed etc are hidden costs that people don't see.
“If we can't have the fans then it is difficult for clubs.
“It would have been nice to have played on and tried to climb the table but you can't do anything about it.
“There is no easy answer, is there?
“There was no way we could have possibly fitted all the games in if we weren't re-starting until the end of March, possibly April. You can't play three or four times a week, it is just not viable.
“If we had played in June, we'd have got around it. People have holidays booked, myself included, and everyone would be in the same boat but I think it all hinged on having fans in and having spectators there to support it.”
He added: “We have kept in touch with all the players constantly and told them as much as we know. Everybody is itching to get back as soon as we can.”
Those sentiments were echoed at Swallownest.
Spokesman Wayne Coyle said: “There was no other option really than to end the season. Time was against us. There was no guarantees of completing but it was right to wait on and see the Government's roadmap.
“I have to say the league have been very good in their communication and support to clubs in what has been a very difficult situation.”
If local Saturday amateur football does return in August, it is likely to be alongside the likes of Rotherham United, Doncaster Rovers and the two Sheffield clubs playing in front of crowds again.
The return of that counter attraction means grassroots clubs will have to work harder to get people through the gate when normality resumes.
“When elite football carried on without fans, we benefitted. Our gates at Maltby were up 96 per cent,” said Maltby’s Race.
“That helped us get over a bad period because when we are not playing we still have to pay our pitch fees to our landlord.
“Fortunately we are less impacted than other clubs because we don't depend upon matchday sales of food and alcohol etc.
“We take anything between £8,000 and £10,000 a season in gate monies, raffles etc but we more than match that with what we get from sponsors.”
To that end, clubs will fill the time between now and the big kick-off in August re-forming bonds with their sponsors after 12 barren months. Maltby are no different.
Added Wilf: “We have been out meeting existing sponsors to gauge what they think because for the last two season our faithful sponsors have handed over their cheques to us but haven't had a lot back in return at a difficult time for them too. They might walk away, but with them being local companies, I hope they will stay with us.”
Unlike the 2019/20 season, which was declared null and void after being cut short by the pandemic, the results from the 2020/21 NCEL campaign will remain on-the-record with the table when the last league matches were played at the end of December being its final standings.
Wayne Coyle added:?“We will be interested to see if the final league positions have any relevance to the planned restructuring of the leagues.”
Meanwhile, interim Swallows manager Alex Nightingale's position has been extended to June, when it will be reviewed.