With the Football Association’s decision – in line with its respective County FAs – yesterday to end the 2019-20 season for all grassroots football and expunge all records to this stage, AFC Uckfield Town became one of the hundreds of clubs to learn of the resolution to their previous eight months’ football.
Already in the knowledge that the FA’s March 16 announcement – one that suspended all grassroots activities indefinitely – effectively ended their season, the Uckers have not been affected as significantly by this latest decision as those contending for promotion or facing relegation, but like all clubs at their level, will have to come to terms with the impact that it has made elsewhere.
Coming exactly a fortnight since the Uckers’ last match, this measure is the latest in a fast-moving reaction from the footballing authorities, both nationally and locally, in the difficult and unprecedented circumstances that face the world currently.
An element of criticism will inevitably follow what was a delayed decision in that timeframe to halt sport at a local level, as opposed to the situation in elite events, where government advice was given and a series of actions taken much earlier in the interests of public safety.
The scale of the task for the Football Association since the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak was realised, however, has been a significant one, and with this latest statement, they have at least been able to outline how all league tables so far will impact on further action when it is able to recommence.
In short, the season will be wiped from records, and action effectively reset at the same starting point sides faced in August 2019.
That resolution will only immediately affect AFC Uckfield Town in the respect that it removes the potential for both a record league finish and cup final appearance; having been the best-placed of all sides outside a rampant top five in the Southern Combination Football League to finish 6th, and denied the chance for Semi-Final revenge against Peacehaven & Telscombe in the Peter Bentley Cup.
Those potential results are now banished to the realms of historical ‘what-ifs’, but the Uckers can otherwise take pride in what was another season where earlier promise was turned into a highly impressive set of results, certainly consolidating if not improving on a breakthrough 2018-19.
A points-per-game calculation to decide all league tables would’ve handed the Uckers 63 points in total – one more than they managed in 2018-19 – while reaching the last four in both the RUR Cup and Peter Bentley Cup for the second year running will be a definite source of pride.
In the FA Cup, Anthony Storey’s side secured two highly impressive results in a similar area of South East London – with Matt Black starring in a 4-1 win at Welling Town, and Bailo Camara the hero in a dramatic comeback to draw 3-3 at VCD Athletic – before the Vickers came down to The Oaks to steal a 5-4 victory on penalties following a further 120 minutes of closely-fought cup football.
After a bye to the Second Round of this season’s FA Vase – the reward for an astounding run to the Fourth Round last year – an impressive 3-2 defeat of high-flying Walthamstow, again having made the trip to the capital, added to the Uckers’ expanding cup pedigree, although the long trek to Binfield in the following round saw a disappointing 4-0 defeat and exit.
Rather than a marker of their season, however, defeats such as that one – and the 2-0 exit to Eastbourne Borough in the Sussex Senior Cup Third Round – will be remembered as the rare occasions when the Uckers encountered quality they could not overcome.
Victories against Lancing – a 1-0 league win at Culver Road secured by Matt Maclean’s goal and some fine defending – Eastbourne Town (2-1 in the Sussex Senior Cup), Newhaven (a comprehensive 4-2 at The Oaks), Horley Town (1-0) and Eastbourne United (winning three of their five meetings with Matt Crabb’s side this season) will be lasting memories, as consistency from existing members of Storey’s set-up has been complemented by some shrewd signings.
In the recruitment of top goalscorer Liam Baitup and ever-present goalkeeper Phil Hawkins, the Uckers have only been strengthened, while the form of senior players such as captain Richie Welch, vice-captain Maclean, player-assistant manager Camara and Dee Okojie, alongside the ever-improving Matt Rodrigues-Barbosa and Ellis Cormack has provided a strong foundation for all achievements this term.
Naturally, the Uckers will want to thank the dedication of all playing and management staff this season, as well as the tireless efforts of all volunteers involved in the running of the club, and wish them a safe few weeks and months before competitive football can start again at The Oaks and across the world.
Although there will be further debate about the ending of this season, and how areas such as club finances – impacted by FA fines, fees paid to officials, and the day-to-day upkeep of facilities to ensure standards are met on each matchday – will be treated in these uncertain times, the priority for all involved in sport and the local community, of course, is to ensure that the country can fight the COVID-19 pandemic as effectively as possible.
Uckfield Chairman Tom Parker told Uckfield FM:
‘I am sad that the season has not been completed but given the circumstances it is the correct thing to do. It was a good season for AFC Uckfield Town having good runs in the FA Vase and Cup . Also reaching Semi finals in RUR and Peter Bentley Cup , which we were still in ,and possibly being in the top six of the league’
‘We are building a very strong squad with a combination of experience and youth .
‘All being well and we solve the problem with the virus , it looks very promising for next season if we are able to play .
‘The most important things is that all involved with the club, committee, players and supporters are all kept healthy and well.
‘As such, I’d like to personally wish a safe next few months to everyone in our area and across the world. I hope to see you soon, and best wishes until then’