Southern League have 'unenviable task' on how to end season says Weston manager Bartlett

Weston manager Scott Bartlett

Weston manager before The Seagulls friendly 2-1 win against Willand Rovers in December. - Credit: Sam Hellings / Boomsatsuma / WsMAFC

Weston manager Scott Bartlett says the league have an “unenviable task” on their hands as they decide how to end the season.

The Board of the Pitching In Southern Football League, along with its fellow Trident Leagues, all share the view the campaign should be null and void.

But clubs will be surveyed before the final decision is made.

“It’s an unenviable task and in some ways the Southern League and its Trident league counterparts can’t do right for wrong but we should have a contingency in place by now,” said Bartlett.

“We are a year on, so to suggest we now have to complete a survey or vote on the outcome of the season and then to decide whether to carry on afterwards somehow is deja vu from last March.

“Covid has been horrendous but how we are still in this stage of decision making is beyond me.

“As I understand it, it’s mainly financial reasons we are not playing at the moment and the National League are, and that can’t be right, it’s either ok to play and train or not and clearly we are being told it’s not safe to do so at the moment.

“There are no structural differences between the leagues other than ‘grant’ funding, there is no testing in the leagues above us and in many cases very similar crowds, grounds and club sizes.”

A record number of games are being postponed due to the ongoing rise in cases, although every FA Cup third-round tie, apart from Southampton against Shrewsbury Town, went ahead at the weekend.

A total of 19 matches, out of 29, were called off in the National League and below last weekend, with two due to frozen pitches.

The FA Women’s Super League also saw all but Chelsea’s 5-0 win at Reading fall victim to the virus.

And Bartlett, whose side haven’t played league football since a 2-1 defeat on October 27 at Salisbury, feels more needs to be done in non-league to prevent the spread of the virus and ensure the safety of players and coaches alike.

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He added: “In the latest round of Covid testing for the FA Cup there has been 112 positive cases.

“There were three leagues playing (last) weekend without any testing at all, when you put that into perspective, you can’t tell me that there are not multiple unknown positive cases within those squads.

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“Unfortunately the National League have lost more and more games to Covid recently, clearly it’s not working.

“There are two parts to this in my opinion, If it’s deemed safe to play following restrictions and guidelines then great, sort out the funding to allow it while crowds are minimised and revenue lost. The money is there in the ‘winter support fund’ which would actually be much more cost effective than the current furlough scheme.”

So far in the Southern Premier South, Weston have only played six leagues games and there will be no matches up to, and including, Saturday March 6.

And Bartlett insists if things do not get better the campaign should finish early to ensure safety.

“However, if it’s unsafe to play which appears to be the case then cancel it all until it’s safe to return, otherwise it’ll never end,” he said.

“There has to be a cut-off somewhere but surely ‘Elite’ football is the English Football League Two and above, that is a natural line in the sand, anyone below that is non-league and therefore 'non-elite' in my mind.

“It is obviously less safe to play at the moment due to the latest more transmissable strain of Covid, so anyone still playing now should be tested regularly in my opinion.”

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