Sussex clubs admit battle with FA over season write-off may end - but vow: We'll come back stronger

Sussex clubs at the forefront of the battle to save the non-league season from being written off have admitted it is looking unlikely the decision will be overturned.

Worthing celebrate a goal against Horsham with their fans - but their rise to the top of the Isthmian premier division looks like being for nothing / Picture: Stephen Goodger
Worthing celebrate a goal against Horsham with their fans - but their rise to the top of the Isthmian premier division looks like being for nothing / Picture: Stephen Goodger

Worthing and Hastings have joined South Shields in continuing to explore whether the FA Council’s ratification of the decision to expunge 2019-20’s results for all step three to seven leagues can be the subject of a further appeal.

Legal advice is still awaited but it is looking increasingly as though the likes of Worthing, Hastings, Lancing and Littlehampton will have to accept their fate and wave goodbye to the promotion hopes that were gaining strength before football was suspended in the coronavirus pandemic.

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Last Thursday an overwhelming majority of the 102 members of the FA Council approved the move proposed by league and FA officials to write off the 2019-20 season and expunge results for leagues including the Isthmian League and SCFL.

Their vote came despite a nine-page legal letter backed by 151 clubs from across the country protesting that the decision had been rushed and taken without adequate consultation of affected clubs.

Worthing were seven points clear at the top of the Isthmian premier and in line for promotion to National League South for the first time when their season was axed.

Chairman Barry Hunter said: “We’ve been very active in this process all the way through, one of the clubs spearheading discussions.

“We are still talking to lawyers about the options for clubs. We don’t like or agree with the decision ratified by the FA Council last week but may have to accept. If that’s what happens, we’ll come backstronger next season.

“We were 80 per cent of the way through the season and were sevne points clear with an opportunity to reach the highest level in our history. To have the FA say our record is expunged has been very hard.

“Our women’s team were in a similarly good position in their league so they have also been hit.

“It’s incredibly disappointing. The decision was flawed, rushed and there was not sufficient consultation.

“We’re still looking at the feasibility of options but have to look at whether any sort of appeal would be successful.

FA official explains thinking behind decision to write off season and expunge results“It’s important to say we all recognise there are bigger agendas – we’re not trying to say this is more important than wider issues in the pandemic, of course. But we want supporters to know we have worked tirelessly to challenge this.

“We have been doing a lot of work off the park as a club and have managed our finances and hunkered down. We will come out stronger at the end of it.”

It is a similar message coming from Billy Wood, CEO at Hastings United, who topped the Isthmian south-east division when football froze and were favourites for promotion to the premier division.

Wood told us: “We’ve been one of the clubs leading the charge and are still negotiating with lawyers. We understand the obstacles ahead of us and are seeking legal clarity on the decision.

“We do feel it’s been a case of one rule for one, one for another, and if the same outcome was arrived at for clubs in the National League then it would be a lot easier to take. But because of Bury there is a spare space in the Football League to fill, so if that is to be taken by a club promoted from the National League that brings other issues into play.

“We didn’t expect the FA Council to change the decision that had been made and my personal view is that they didn’t have the courage to.

“As a club we want to make sure we do everything reasonable to challenge the decision. But the FA won’t stop the progress of Hastings United. They may do that this year but to everyone associated with our club, this is just an obstacle.

“If we can’t get promotion now, it becomes a must next season. We have an incredible academy, coaching system and recruitment and are a club going in the right direction.

“Chris Agutter (manager) and I talk every day. We’re not sitting around sulking, we will continue to fight.”

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