Promotion play-offs are often referred to as a ‘lottery’, with a dog-eat-dog splash of teams just unable to secure automatic spots coming up against sides that may have crept in after a successful last push in the final few months of their campaign, writes Tom Howe.
This season, however, the term lottery – where success is governed by chance – is more apt than ever, with countless permutations thrown up by the unprecedented effects of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
Having brought an end to their 2019-20 season, the National League have since written to its clubs to invite their views on continuing with the play-offs, something Weymouth manager Mark Molesley has thrown his weight behind, providing it is deemed safe to do so.
The Terras enjoyed an electric first season back in National League South, having won promotion as Southern League Premier champions, and, sat third, were deep into the play-off qualification places when the campaign was brought to a standstill.
“It is a difficult situation to deal with to be honest,” Molesley told The Independent. “We have had a great season, worked really hard and were hoping to end on a real high. We can only control the controllables and that is the way we have always been. It has taken an unprecedented situation to halt proceedings and, ultimately, football has got to take a back seat.
“We will respect the authorities and whatever decision they come up with. It is a thankless task they have got at the minute. I feel we have equipped ourselves well on the pitch this year and we were hoping to finish the season. We are still yet to be told that we are not. We got asked this week whether it would be possible to play the play-offs and if we would be interested.
“We said yes absolutely, if there is no risk. I think we have got more chance of finishing the play-offs than we have of starting football for some time. To finish the play-offs, it will be a very short term situation, it will be over in a week and you can play behind closed doors at a low risk. If we have a chance of the play-offs I think we should try and do it. Starting a season is a whole different ball game.
“For non-league football to survive, you have got to have the gates open and, at the moment, it is not safe to do so. Until it is, football will have to take a back seat as much as it pains us all. Communication has been quite slow and I think the reason for that is because [the National League] are waiting to follow the Football League, who are looking to follow the Premier League.”
The former Plymouth Argyle and Exeter City midfielder continued by saying: “You are opening a can of worms with contractual issues and health, it is an absolute minefield. People are trying to take their time. There is probably not that much information they can keep giving because nobody has got a crystal ball and nobody knows how this is going to play out. I think they are trying their best. We will have to roll with the punches as it goes along.
“It would be a shame for it to be null and void as if it never existed. I just can’t see how that would work. Ultimately, we are going to come back and play football at some stage. To finish this season in some capacity, to have some closure and reward the teams that have done well – I think we should look at that the best we can.
“I understand the longer it goes on the more difficult that is. There are not many things more important than football but this pandemic certainly is. We are hoping [to hear] around the middle of May on what the Government are going to be doing with the lockdown and then from the EFL. I have heard rumours they are looking to make a decision then. It is all hypothetical and that is the problem. It makes it difficult to manage but people’s health is the most important thing. The health of football clubs is also important, we can’t afford people to go out of business, and we have to look at the integrity of the competition as well.”
Molesley is also busy preparing for a number of different eventualities in his other role, having returned to former club AFC Bournemouth to oversee the club’s under-21s, something he has been doing for the last five years, and is missing during the lockdown.
“Those last two or three months of the season are so important – it is a sprint finish so to speak.
“Players are trying to win contracts or go out on trial or loans to progress their own careers. So much is at stake. You are looking at decisions on scholars and young lads. Those months are critical.
“These are worrying times for everyone, not just in football.
“This is a world problem but what I will say is that Bournemouth is a fantastic football club that has always looked after its players well and we are looking to do the best we can to give everyone a fair chance.”
With the lockdown being reviewed by the Government for a second time on Thursday (May 7), this week should go some way to answering some serious outstanding questions on just when and how it could be safe for sport to resume and whether Weymouth will get their shot at back-to-back promotions.