Sussex's midweek football cup finals spark furious row

Two clubs involved in SCFL Shield finals have criticised them being staged in midweek.

Rustington celebrate a goal on their run to the division one shield final / Picture: Steve Robards
Rustington celebrate a goal on their run to the division one shield final / Picture: Steve Robards

Rustington chairman Gareth Davies has slammed the SCFL’s decision to play their Division 2 Supplementary Shield final against Montpelier Villa next Tuesday - while Midhurst are also unhappy their Division 1 final v Billingshurst is on Wednesday night. The games will be at Steyning and Broadbridge Heath respectively.

The under-23 final - between teams yet to be confirmed at a venue to be decided - will be on Thursday night while the Premier Division final between Loxwood and the winners of tomorrow's (May 12) Lancing-Lingfield semi-final will be played on Saturday, May 22. That final's venue has also yet to be confirmed.

Rustington and Midhurst have both questioned why their finals can't also be on Saturday 22 - with some suggesting the three main finals could even have been played throughout the day at one venue. But the league has said logistics prevented it arranging more than one Saturday final, at one or multiple venues.

The good news is looks like crowds of at least 500 will be permitted at each final following the further relaxation of rules about spectators in grounds which take effect next Monday.

Rustington chairman Gareth Davies said: “It’s a competition that’s been played out predominantly over the past six Saturdays, a league that is played on a Saturday and we come to the conclusion of the tournament and season and we are told to play on a Tuesday evening in Steyning, it’s farcical.

"Supporters haven’t been in grounds for months and we get the opportunity to welcome them back with open arms and expect them to travel midweek, after work and then get up for work then next day. That doesn’t sit right with me, the players suffer, some of whom miss out because of work commitments, it feels as if we are all being punished which is a real shame.

“It was always a sensible decision to delay the finals until we could get supporters in but with a free Saturday between the FA Cup final and Champions League final, that presented a real opportunity for the SCFL to hold a cup finals day, a single venue, three games across the day, give the players and supporters what they want.

"Reaching a cup final is about enjoying the day, making the most of it and celebrating or commiserating as a group afterwards. No disrespect to Steyning but we won’t get that opportunity on a Tuesday evening, the game will be played to a finish, the winning side will pick up the cup and then everyone will go their separate ways back home to their families or home to have their dinner.

"It almost takes the shine off the hard work of the past few weeks and the achievement of reaching the final."

A Twitter spat broke out after the SCFL's Twitter account replied to criticism of the midweek timing of games by saying: "You can always drop out!"

Midhurst criticised the league's plans and response to those questioning the timings. They said on Twitter that engaging with the finalists would have been welcomed. They said: "Almost every game has been on a Saturday. Why then change that to midweek for the final?! Especially considering the two venues are nowhere near any of the clubs taking part."

But SCFL chairman Steve Nealgrove defended the league's position when we asked him about it. He said SCFL cup finals had in recent years only ever been staged in midweeks or on bank holiday Mondays, and Saturday finals were never promised for this year's special one-off competitions.

Nealgrove said it was a shame some clubs were quick to criticise on Twitter rather than phone league officials to discuss things.

He said the idea of staging three Saturday finals at one ground was a non-starter as ongoing Covid rules meant a deep clean of changing rooms would be needed after each game, and there could be complications over the total number of spectators allowed on the day. And he said staging three Saturday finals at different grounds would stretch SCFL officials too thinly as there were presentations to make at each one.

The availability of facilities was another factor governing when games could be played, with many grounds not available to the league as soon as a team's season had finished.

Nealgrove said: "We deliberately timed the finals for the week beginning May 17 because it looked likely that that was when fans would be allowed, and that is how things have turned out. A lot of work has gone into this whole tournament and the details of the finals and if these clubs would pick the phone up if they had an alternative idea, we could explain the process to them.

"There are many factors to consider, especially at the moment with Covid still an issue, but I hope all teams in finals enjoy the occasions and I hope a good number of fans will attend."

Live streaming of the finals is planned for any fans who can't make. Matches will not be all-ticket as the league do not anticipate more supporters than are allowed will want to get in.