North Devon’s football clubs remain in the dark about when their 2020/21 football season will begin.
Bideford and Barnstaple Town are hoping to kick off their Southern League Division One South campaigns on September 19, but the league has now warned that will not happen if the Government doesn’t make a decision on letting fans back into grounds by Friday (August 21).
If that doesn’t happen, the season will not start until October 3 at the earliest.
Southern League vice-chairman and FA representative Anthony Hughes, said there was a ‘continuing lack of clarity’ about when fans can be admitted to National League System (NLS) stadiums again, and said playing games behind closed doors was ‘not financially viable’.
He said the FA had submitted three proposals for the safe return of fans, which were waiting for final Government approval after being supported by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
At step six, the South West Peninsula League has confirmed the league won’t start as planned on September 5 if fans can’t attend.
Bideford manager Sean Joyce said clubs in the National League System were ‘being hung out to dry’.
“It could kill non-league football – we need fans in now.
“We could easily get 300 people in the Sports Ground safely. They’ve thrown a blanket over us all and it’s lazy. There could be a lot of teams that go under because of this.
“We’re playing pre-season games now and building up to the FA Cup on September 12, but we might not kick a ball again for a month after that.”
Barnstaple Town boss Dean Edwards said the situation was a ‘shambles’.
“To say it’s a farce is an understatement,” said Edwards.
“Nobody knows what is happening – it seems like organised chaos. At the moment there’s no clear definitive word and everything is grey. Until it’s black and white we need to know where we stand.
“It’s difficult to make any plans. Everyone is calling games off and no one wants to play games at home because it’ll cost £150 to get the game on, and for what?”
Like all clubs, Bideford and Barnstaple are holding their pre-season friendlies behind closed doors. Tuesday night sees Bideford hosting Exmouth Town and Barnstaple Town hosting Tiverton Town.
Joyce said home friendlies would usually be a key way of boosting revenue before the season’s start, and Edwards admitted Barnstaple may not be able to play as many games before the season start if it means losing money.
The delays are being felt further down the pyramid in the grassroots North Devon Football League – which can’t compile fixtures for its September 5 start until the Southern League’s fixtures are released.