South Shields face anxious wait for FA decision as Geoff Thompson reveals full impact of expunging season

South Shields will have to wait until NEXT week to learn their fate as they step up their bid to have a decision to expunge their season overturned.

Tuesday, 31st March 2020, 7:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 1st April 2020, 1:09 pm

The Mariners have been joined by more than 100 other clubs in appealing to the Football Association to reconsider the controversial decision to wipe out the 2019/20 season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The FA announced last week that football in England below the National League's three divisions would end immediately with results expunged.

It means there will be no promotion or relegation in these 91 leagues, angering South Shields fans, players and staff who had seen their side on the verge of promotion to National League North before the season was halted.

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South Shields FC chairman Geoff Thompson. Picture by FRANK REID

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It is not just the Mariners who are contesting the decision. Led in part by chairman Geoff Thompson, a campaign involving scores of other non-league clubs has beenbacked by several MPs across the country, while Peterborough United have added their backing and hopes are that other EFL clubs such as Sunderland will join them.It had been thought that the FA Council were to meet this week to ratify the decision, but the Gazette has learned that the meeting will not take place until next week now.

Thompson remains confident that with the protests gathering pace and momentum, the clubs may get a positive outcome, and says while they have instructed lawyers to look into the situation, he hopes there isn’t the need for litigation.“I didn’t expect this reaction and I’m delighted we have got it,” he said.

“We all heard the decision by social media and that is the first point we want to discuss, the communication. Then we feel like the decision was made at the wrong time, and thirdly we want a consistent approach from the Premier League and Liverpool’s situation right down the pyramid.

South Shields supporters in their last game before the season was ended.

“We’ve gone back to the FA and expressed our disappointment and asked for some engagement with us.

“We are effectively looking at two potential outcomes. One, to finish the season when it is possible to do so. Two, if it isn’t possible to finish the season, to have some dialogue about the best way forward.

“The last resort should be to make the season null and void.”

The FA insist this was a decision made by the three leagues immediately below National League level - the Northern Premier League, of which Shields sit 12 points clear at the top; the Southern Premier League, and the Isthmian League.

Jason Gilchrist celebrates scoring against FC United of Manchester to send Shields 12 points clear.

The game’s governing body believe they have listened to what the leagues as a collective wanted and supported them, taking into account financial pressures on non-league clubs during this unprecedented situation.

And while Thompson & Co want consistency from the professional game down, the understanding among FA chiefs is that they will support whatever decisions the Premier League and EFL advise making - just as they have in this case, and in allowing the National League to suspend their season indefinitely.

An FA spokesman said: "The decision taken to end the 2019/20 season across Steps 3-7 of the National League System, the women’s football pyramid and the wider grassroots game was made by committee representatives for the respective leagues, and was supported by The FA Board and The FA Women’s Board. It will now go to The FA Council for ratification.

“We fully support the decision they came to during these challenging and unprecedented circumstances for English football."

Thompson, on behalf of Shields, is involved with a small group of chairman and owners who are acting on behalf of the other disgruntled clubs who have backed the campaign, including Worthing’s Barry Hunter, Hastings duo Daren Burney and Billy Wood, David Dent of Northern League side Shildon, Walton & Hersham’s Sartej Tucker, and Spencer Owen of Hashtag United.

Thompson added: “We have got lawyers involved but we don’t want to go down the litigation route. We just want to engage in a dialogue.

“We have had support from all over the country, and it’s not just those who are going for promotion, like us, it is clubs throughout the pyramid.

“This isn’t just done trying to protect South Shields’ interests, it’s a very broad church. It’s something for the best interests of all the leagues.”

Shields, however, do have their own interests to contend with. Further investment in the first-team squad will have to be shelved while plans to invest further in the community, both through the academy, foundation and building work will also be put on hold through a combination of coronavirus and the uncertainty of which league they’ll be playing their football in next season.

While Thompson admits not all of this is down to the FA decision, but the situation the whole country is facing, he says it has played a role.

“We were looking to invest further in the Academy and the Foundation, and the community and people around us,” he said. “We were looking this summer to improve the paths around the ground and the border fencing; and we were looking to put up a new stand.

“All that has now stalled.

“Our fan ownership model, we were ready to do that. We have done all the legal and financial work, and the promotional aspects, but it to be shelved not just because of the FA decision but coronavirus as a whole.

“We will have to revisit our numbers. A lot were done on the assumption that we would be promoted.

“If the decision is that we have to pause, then we will just brush ourselves down and go again once the health crisis is over.”