Easter weekend promised to be an interesting one in the National League, but while Macclesfield took another giant stride towards the title, events elsewhere once again illustrated the issues the competition faces.
Good Friday fixtures and late postponement
Tranmere’s late postponement at Dover was infuriating in its own right. We’re not going to speak about Dover, their Chairman’s comments or the farce down there on Friday – everyone knows what that club is like.
However, the nature of the late decision to call-off the match did highlight a quite incredible collection of fixtures in the National League on Good Friday – one of the busiest days on the UK roads each year.
Tranmere obviously had a 600+ mile round-trip to Dover, but other teams had similar trips. Torquay had a 500-mile round-trip to Chester, Barrow would have covered around 550 miles in going to Boreham Wood and Dagenham would have clocked up a little more than that in heading to Gateshead.
Here’s some of the longest round trips on Good Friday:
Tranmere to Dover – 606 miles
Hartlepool to Maidstone – 576 miles
Dagenham to Gateshead. – 560 miles
Barrow to Boreham Wood – 550 miles
Torquay to Chester – 498 miles
Macclesfield to Woking – 386 miles
Obviously, these fixtures have to take place at some point, but to schedule them all on a Bank Holiday seems short-sighted at best, with Good Friday the worst of the lot to choose. It was a bizarre set of fixtures.
On the subject of postponements, is there anything that can be done to prevent late postponements such as the one Tranmere suffered at Dover? Allegedly, the pitch changed from being playable to not-playable within half an hour. With such a long trip, fans were already at the ground or within a short distance away.
Should match officials be arriving earlier to inspect pitches, or are there other things that can be done to prevent these types of scenarios in future? Surely all parties had viewed the forecast and so a decision on the likely condition could have been made earlier.
If there is one thing that has remained consistent throughout our near-three-year stay in this division, it’s the abysmal standard of officiating. That’s not just sour grapes from a Tranmere perspective either; other teams regularly mention it and social media is almost always full of fans complaining about it.
In today’s live game on BT Sport, the National League had the opportunity to showcase itself. To show viewers how competitive the league is, with a title-chasing team meeting play-off hopefuls and FA Trophy finalists.
Instead, rather than talking about a fine away win and performance by Boreham Wood at Sutton, fans and pundits alike were left discussing the match officials.
It was a catalogue of errors, first as the Sutton keeper somehow avoided a red card for hauling down a Bromley player in front of goal. Previously, it was as blatant a red card as you’d see, although some suggest that now it falls within the new ‘double jeaopardy’ rule in that if the team is awarded a penalty, then the offending player is only booked. The keeper made no attempt to play the ball.
Things got even worse after the break as Bromley had a goal bizarrely ruled out for offside. The scorer was a clear 4-5 yards Onside when the ball was played, and the linesman kept his flag down as the player continued his run on goal and converted past the goalkeeper. Only when celebrations had finished, did the ref and lino come up with a decision to rule it out.
To complete the comedy of errors, Sutton skipper Jamie Collins was sent off midway through the second half. The incident that it appeared to be related to was literally nothing other than two players falling over after competing for a header. If anything, the Bromley played flicked his leg out at Collins.
Play continued for a few moments until the fourth official called the ref over next time the ball went out of play and presumably gave the instruction for the red card. The decision will be appealed by Sutton and will be overturned, make no mistake about it.
The commentators, presenter and pundits on BT Sport were at a loss to explain the decisions, with Adam Virgo labelling the officiating as “embarrassing”. So rather than dissect a decent game of football and superb performance by Bromley which helps improve the image of the National League, all post-match talk was about the crazy decisions.
How long can this go on before the National League come up with a way of improving things?
Can a deal not be struck with the Football League to share the training of officials, if not the officials themselves? Is there no way a sponsor can be found to in some way help the education of officials?
One thing is for sure, the longer it goes on that officiating standards are left unaddressed, the more amateur the competition will be perceived to be, and the less attractive to potential new fans and sponsors.
Talking of which, this website reached out to the National League TWO weeks ago for comment in relation to the lack of yellow match balls available to clubs following the snowy game at Boreham Wood, and asking whether other balls – such as the Nike FA Cup ball used in that game – could simply be substituted in when required?
We are yet to have any acknowledgement, let alone a response.