football

Barnsley's  highest-placed non-league clubs won’t play in their leagues until January at the earliest after the FA decided that clubs at their level could not welcome fans back to their grounds. 

The FA, after consultation with the government, ruled that clubs in tier three areas – under the government’s Covid-19 measures – who play below the National League North and South level, will not be permitted to play in front of fans unlike before the latest lockdown when 300 supporters were allowed. 

The County Senior League, in which many Barnsley clubs play, and the Barnsley Sunday League are due to go ahead with games this weekend without fans. All clubs have been able to train after lockdown finished on Tuesday.

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But the Northern Counties East League asked for feedback from their clubs – 37 out of 40 of whom are in tier three areas – and decided to postpone the re-start from Tuesday of next week until at least January 2. 

Barnsley clubs Penistone Church, Worsbrough Bridge and Athersley Rec all voted for the suspension as they did not want to play behind-closed-doors. 

Penistone are still due to visit Longridge Town, near Preston, in the FA Vase tomorrow. 

Penistone manager Ian Richards said: “We just don’t feel right as a community football club that gets 300 fans to most games, to play behind closed doors.

“It isn’t in line with our values. 

“Also, from a financial position, it would be very difficult to put games on and pay players with no money coming in from ticket sales. Players have said they would play for free, and we don’t pay a lot, but I think they do deserve some reward for the work they put in and we have high expectations of them. 

“Hopefully we can win in the FA Vase and play the next round before Christmas. 

“Then we will have to play twice a week from January and the season will probably be extended, possibly into June. 

“The season might be decided on a points-per-game basis but I think that 75 per cent of games should have to be completed in order to do that.” 

Athersley Rec manager Shane Kelsey is also against behind-closed-doors games. 

He said: “How can we start when we’re not making any money through ticket sales? 

“It’s ridiculous. 

“We still have to cover match fees and pay our bills. 

“It’s a non-starter, for me. 

“There were loans available but that is just papering over the cracks because we would have to pay that money back. There needed to be grants available to cover the costs. 

“I was massively, massively against it. That is pretty much unanimous across the league. 

“It was a recipe for disaster and I don’t know how they came to this decision. 

“Football is no good without fans.

“I can’t even watch games without fans on TV, there is no soul to it.

“It worked before the second lockdown and all clubs socially distanced successfully but the powers that be have disagreed. It is much easier to manage crowds at our level.”

Kelsey believes the league can be finished after re-starting in January, 

He said: “Players don’t mind playing two games a week, they play football because they love it.

“It’s only the same as when we have a really bad winter with a lot of games called off.

“We should at least try to finish the season and, if we can’t, then the points-per-game scenario can be brought back into play.” 

Worsbrough Bridge play in NCEL Division One. 

Their manager Luke Forgione said: “The club’s long-term sustainability is the most important thing and it’s not feasible for the club to play under these circumstances. 

“The club has made the decision not to play behind-closed-doors and I support that decision. 

“We just can’t afford to play without fans and it isn’t the same without them anyway. 

“I am sure our players would play for free but they get paid a very small amount and we would still need to save money elsewhere. 

“There are the costs of floodlights and paying the officials. 

“I like to be positive and I feel that, if we get through this period, it will be a good learning curve for me as a coach who has just come into the role. 

“We will keep training which is a          positive. 

“I think it was best to postpone games until January. 

“After that, bringing games forward to 1pm on Saturdays would help with floodlight costs.”