Key to any planning to be done for the 2020/21 season is a start date, with rumours surfacing almost daily about the end of August or the beginning of September being targeted.
“We had a discussion about this during our last meeting and there was some new information about when the season might start,” chief executive Nigel Clibbens confirmed. “A couple of dates were floated towards the end of August and early September, but there’s an international break in the middle of that.
“Obviously that shouldn’t really affect League Two, and I think clubs are going to be asked if they want to start sooner rather than later around those kind of times. It’s a trade-off, if we can get the rules about what happens with fans really clear, and clubs can start earning some income, I think we’ll all just want to get on with it.
“If it’s still unclear as to what will happen, with the costs that come along with that coupled with no funding to pay for it, again it becomes quite difficult to even think about staging games or starting a season. We’d all find it hard with no income and a lot of costs.
“What I will say is that the mist is starting to clear, but it’s happening slowly. What we do know is that we aren’t going to get the fixtures until mid-August, with the National League play-off final not until 2 August, so even getting those fixtures two weeks later is a test, given the complexity of what’s needed to come up with the final scheduling.
“That’s why there’s going to be a lot of uncertainty for quite a while yet. You’ll have seen that the EFL are appealing the Macclesfield disciplinary commission punishment, so we don’t know what that will mean in terms of relegation, particularly if it means that another points deduction is made.
“Equally the EFL still needs to decide whether the National League has satisfied its criteria of certainty of a start for next season to know if anybody will get relegated in the first place. I’ve raised that specific point because it’s one that needs to be resolved quickly. They understand, but they weren’t able to say when we would know whether we had 24 or 25 teams for next season.”
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But does the fixture release date, whenever that takes place in August, mean that we can then start to work out when all of the fixtures will be played, in terms of cup and league competition?
“A date will be set when the season can start, and that will determine where the fixture slots are from the dates that are available, and when games being played can actually happen,” he explained. “For instance, if you miss a Saturday or even two, in August or early September, because the season hasn’t yet kicked off, that ripples into the rest of the schedule and midweek places have to be found for them to be played.
“In turn that could affect the cup ties which you would normally expect to see on a Saturday, and it affects the contingency dates for replays. If you’ve used up all of your Tuesdays for league fixtures, it means you can’t have replays, and that affects the rules you have for each competition you take part in.
“Just from me saying that, you can see how the date that’s decided to start the season actually ripples into and impacts on everything. More complications come when you consider that clubs are paired, on police advice, so Nottingham Forest for example won’t ever play a home game on the same day as Notts County.
“Some of the regions that have big clubs in close proximity make that even more complicated, and all of these things cascade all the way down the pyramid as to who can play who, and when they can play them.
“The computer programme they run takes a lot of tinkering with and that’s why the fixtures can only come once the season start date has been set in stone. And, with Covid-19, that can only happen once you know whether or not you can even start the season. It’s a sequence, so we just have to wait and see.”
With the prospect of Saturday-Tuesday fixtures for some time to come, and that’s just with a league programme to complete, does that put FA Cup replays, Carabao cup ties and Leasing.com Trophy round robin fixtures under the spotlight for change or complete removal?
“As we sit here now, everybody is hoping that everything can stay the same,” he said. “But, the shorter the window you have for your fixtures, the more pressure there is on the planners because it all starts to become impractical.
“The moment your start losing Saturdays you’re into a really complicated and complex situation and eventually you run out of days where you can play the games without extending the season. If you get to that point you need to liaise with UEFA and FIFA and there are all kinds of regulations which govern that as an outcome. We’re finding that one decision ripples into many other ones and it is all really difficult.”
In part four of our interview, on the official website on Thursday morning, we’ll be talking to the chief executive about the summer transfer window … will it ever open?
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