Northern League chairman on the importance of volunteers, gaining four new clubs and supporters returning to grounds
Northern League chairman Glenn Youngman has hailed the impact of volunteers at clubs around the region as they look to move on from the difficulties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The new Northern League season gets underway on Saturday with a whole host of eye-catching fixtures across both divisions.
The gates will be re-opened at grounds across the North East, Cumbria and North Yorkshire as supporters click through the turnstiles without limitation for the first time in almost 16 months.
The financial and operational strain of running a non-league club can be hazardous at the best of times – but the impact of the pandemic has only heightened those concerns.
However, the hard work and dedication of volunteers has ensured the Northern League will return with a full compliment of clubs when the first whistle of the season is blown at 3pm on Saturday afternoon.
Youngman praised the never-say-die spirit of individuals around the clubs and called on supporters to come back in numbers to enjoy the return of the “unique” matchday environment.
He told The Echo: “It’s been a very, very difficult time for everyone and I think we are all just glad to see clubs back playing in front of crowds.
“We are so grateful to see the supporters back and hopefully they can have a season to enjoy.
“Clubs, players, spectators, we have all missed football at this level.
“Yes, they can watch the Premier League, but it’s not the same as getting out there in non-league and the Northern League and watching football with your friends and family in person.
“Thanks should go to all of the volunteers at every club, they have kept these clubs going under very extreme circumstances over the last two years.
“They have had to deal with things like self-isolating, not being able to get into grounds and our clubs and their volunteers have done exceptionally well to ensure we have come through this with every club still as strong as ever.
“Clubs have had very little income over the last two years.
“They’ve had some grants, which has probably kept them going, but getting people through the gates and the atmosphere they produce is invaluable.
“It’s great to be back watching Northern League football and let’s hope it’s a productive season for everyone involved.”
There are high hopes that an entire Northern League season will be played for in full after two years of curtailed campaigns.
The 2019/20 season met a premature end in February last year as the reality of the pandemic set in and last season was curtailed in November as the country prepared to head into a second lockdown after restrictions had been prematurely relaxed.
The Football Association have received much criticism during that period after a number of decisions drew the wrath of clubs across the non-league scene.
As recently as May, they oversaw a restructure of the non-league pyramid using a points-per-game calculation based on results over the two disrupted seasons, despite declaring the 2019/20 season as null and void.
As a result, Hebburn Town, Shildon and Stockton Town were all promoted into the new look Northern Premier League East Division and a trio of second division clubs – Crook Town, Redcar Town and West Allotment Celtic – will kick off the new season in the Northern League’s top tier on Saturday.
With the kick-off now just hours away, Youngman is keen to see promotion and relegation matters settled on the field, rather than on a spreadsheet when the season comes to a close next April.
“After the null and void season, where we played approximately three quarters of the games, and then we played a quarter of them last season before it was stopped, we probably all feel this year will be a full season.
“I think we will have some interruptions with Covid and isolating, we are expecting that – but it’s fingers crossed we get through all of that and get a full season.
“We want to see promotion and relegation carried out on the field of play, not through calculations or anything like that.
“Points per game was a necessity, I understand that, but achievements should be made on the pitch.”
There is a fresh feel about the league’s second tier with four clubs securing promotion into Division Two as part of the restructure overseen by the FA.
The names of Horden CW and Blyth Town return to the league on Saturday with games against Washington and Bedlington Terriers respectively.
Redcar Town will become Teesside’s latest Northern League club when they visit Tow Law Town and Boldon CA will become the fourth newly promoted side to see action this season when they visit Horden on Tuesday night.
Youngman described the quartet of newcomers as “progressive clubs” and praised the hard work that has been put in behind the scenes to ensure they met the standards required to compete in the Northern League.
“When you look at the clubs we are gaining, they are progressive clubs that have done an outstanding job on their home grounds.
“There has been a lot of hard work put in by people at all four clubs and hopefully they can survive in the second division and flourish at a higher level because that hard work deserves to be rewarded with progression on the pitch.
“We head into the new season knowing we have gained four clubs that will be a credit to our league, and we have been really impressed by them during the last year.
“We hope all four clubs, and everyone else around the league, enjoys the new season and that is will be worth the wait.”
For more information on the Northern League and the fixtures at your nearest club, please head to their official website here.