Robin Sainty: Short-term actions at long-term costs

Rory McAuley puts King's Lynn Town ahead against Dover Athletic

Rory McAuley scores for King's Lynn Town against Dover Athletic earlier this season. Dover couldn't afford to fulfil fixtures and have been hit by a huge fine as a consequence - Credit: Ian Burt

You really do have to wonder about some of the people running football in England.  

Last week it was announced that the National League management, who have largely gone missing during the pandemic, had issued a number of carried forward points deductions and fines averaging £2,000 to clubs that had failed to fulfil fixtures in a season which in the North and South divisions has now been declared null and void. 

The National League pushed reluctant clubs to start the season on the basis that grant aid would be available throughout, but this actually ceased at the end of December after which their only option was to take out loans which, with no crowds, would be financially crippling. 

Given that it had been announced there would be no relegation from the top division, Dover Athletic, who were bottom, decided to stop playing immediately or face bankruptcy. The National League’s response has been to fine them £40,000. As Dover’s chairman pointed out, "they know we've done this to prevent us becoming insolvent, and yet they've fined us £40,000 which in itself will push us into insolvency if they enact it”. 

Hitting clubs who are already walking a financial tightrope with fines for not playing games in a season which in the two regional divisions have now been abandoned, really does seem to be the epitome of insensitivity, but the National League did make the following statement:  "Given the extremely unusual circumstances that have affected football at all levels and the financial pressures the absence of spectators has brought to bear on clubs, the panel  expressed its sympathy with the clubs’ predicament.”  

So that’s alright then. 

England U21 head coach Aidy Boothroyd

England U21s head coach Aidy Boothroyd - a man under pressure - Credit: PA

Unfortunately, things don’t improve higher up the game where the next generation of bright English talent is currently being stymied by the FA’s inexplicable decision to entrust the Under-21 team to Aidy Boothroyd, a manager who wasn’t considered good enough by Northampton Town. 

Once again this week Boothroyd’s bizarre selections and archaic tactics were shown to be out of touch with modern football as his team crashed out of the European Championships after losing their first two games, without registering a single shot on target in the second and failing to win by a large enough margin in their third. 

However, if you’re expecting my moans to extend to criticising the EFL for not switching City's game at Preston to Saturday to allow their international players more recovery time you will be disappointed. 

In all fairness, a full Championship fixture list was always slated for Good Friday, and while it does mean that some of City’s players may have less than 48 hours recovery time after Wednesday night’s international games that is, unfortunately, the downside of having so many players good enough to play for their national sides. 

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I certainly don’t blame Preston for not agreeing to a switch either. Why should they give up a perceived advantage, and how would City fans feel if the situation was reversed? 

What’s more, the fact the Huddersfield game has been moved to Tuesday evening for TV coverage will help City and will no doubt irritate fans of Watford and Swansea. 

What I do have an issue with is the decision to cram three internationals into this break when players have already been pushed to the limit by the shortened season and coronavirus is still rife in places. 

While I understand that the World Cup qualifiers must be squeezed into a shorter timeframe the physical and mental pressure on players is immense, but seems to have been largely ignored by the decision makers. 

It is clear that Daniel Farke will have big decisions to make at Preston, with Ollie Skipp and Grant Hanley, if selected, facing their fourth full game in nine days, but at least his international players have returned unscathed. 

The question, however, is what the long-term impact of this glut of games will be. 

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