The Game That Never Was

So what position are we in the league? If you think you know, think again: nobody knows how many points we have, and the rest of the National League are in the same position.

This farcical state of affairs is due to Dover Athletic’s decision to stop playing, and the National League’s inability, two months later, to decide what to do about it.

The current table still includes Athletic, hanging off the bottom of the league having played half as many games as everyone else, while we sit in 5th place. However, if their results are expunged the table changes.

Suddenly, our 3-1 win over Dover will count against us. We’ll lost those three points and slip to 6th, with 3 sides which didn’t beat Athletic hard on our heels.

The teams currently in the play-off spots will mostly be the ones to suffer: apart from us, Stockport, Torquay and Bromley will all lose 3 points too. Poor Bromley will plummet from 7th to 10th, leapfrogged by Halifax and Chesterfield, who hadn’t played Dover at all so drop no points, and Eastleigh, who drew with them and therefore lose only one.

At the top, neither Sutton nor Hartlepool had played Dover, so their position as the top two would be strengthened, while Notts County’s defeat to the bottom side will turn into a positive as they go ahead of us and improve their goal difference without kicking a ball!

The reasons behind Dover’s decision are quite complex. Their owner Jim Parmenter’s complaint is that the National League promised that a grant would be forthcoming for all its member clubs, yet what was actually offered was a loan.  

Well, to tell the truth it was the opportunity to apply for a loan really. It turns out that, despite the remarkable circumstances facing non-league clubs, there’s no guarantee Sport England will rubber stamp any application.  

Boreham Wood found this out the hard way: they were essentially told they were not eligible for a grant because they are too well run! Now Boreham Wood are not a club I usually have a great deal of sympathy for, so when I offer them up as the good guys in a story, something must be very wrong. 

Whether Dover would have been successful in their application for a loan is irrelevant, according to Parmenter. Some clubs are constitutionally unable to receive a loan as a result of how they are set up, so for them it’s a grant or nothing. It’s my understanding that, if we’d been eligible to apply for a grant prior to the takeover, we’d have been in this situation. 

Whether it’s fair to blame the National League for this is a moot point, as they are surely subject to the whims of the government and Sport England, but Parmenter had enough and withdrew Dover from their remaining fixtures in February.

The problem is that the issue hasn’t been resolved. Weeks later, we still don’t know what’s going to happen with Dover, although it seems pretty obvious that only one course of action available to the National League is to eject Dover for refusing to complete their fixtures.

In doing so, they’ll condemn the club to a drop of two divisions as the National League also run the North and South divisions below us, so if you’re barred from our league you’re also unable to play in them. 

I can’t see any other way to handle this situation, not least because if Dover get away with it, others may follow. After all, six clubs voted to end the season in February, not just Athletic. Yet still there is no word, and we don’t know whether the table is currently correct!  

That’s a crazy situation with the key point of the season approaching. Imagine going into the last handful of matches not knowing how many points you’d need to secure a play-off spot! You might argue that it would rule out the daft shenanigans we saw on the final day two seasons ago, when both we and Harrogate fielded weakened sides as we thought we’d be paying each other again in the play-offs four days later, and as a consequence didn’t face each other at all! 

The fact is, though, that no league can be taken seriously if it can’t say what its own results are. We can’t go into the last day of the season not knowing if the consequences of that day’s results will stand up to scrutiny or not: we must know what’s happening now. 

It’s reminiscent of the Boston United fiasco. Nobody who was there could forget that remarkable last day escape we enjoyed in 2007, when we needed a win against The Pilgrims to avoid relegation to the National League and pulled off a heart-stopping 3-1 triumph, coming from behind in front of a massive crowd. That day threw up so many iconic moments: Valentine’s penalty, Llewellyn’s rabona assist and impromptu shirt swap, and the emotional post-match pitch invasion. 

Yet, it was all totally pointless, and not just because the following season we went down with a whimper anyway. 

Unknown to anyone outside the corridors of power, the Football League were considering a move against Boston United for financial irregularities which had been widely reported all season but had appeared to have been ignored. In what can only be viewed as a cowardly act, the Football League failed to apply a penalty before the game, for fear of being seen to relegate one of its own. 

Instead, they hoped we’d do the job for them and waited until we were 3-1 up before confirming the punishment. One can only assume that if we hadn’t won, they would have been forced to demote Boston and offer us a reprieve, after we’d gone through the trauma of apparently being relegated ourselves. 

Once again we face a situation where results will be decided off the pitch. I don’t have a problem with that, because rule breaking has to be punished, but it’s important that we all know where we stand as soon as possible. 

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