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Merthyr Town the latest COVID non-league casualty of 2020/21

Supporter-owned Merthyr Town have become the latest non-league club to take the difficult decision to ‘suspend’ their activity for the coming season.

In an announcement on the club website yesterday, the Merthyr Town board confirmed that the club would not take part in the 2020-21 Southern League season. After “much debate and soul searching” the board were left with no choice, anticipating that “the blanket ban on allowing supporters into grounds in Wales is unlikely to be relaxed in the near future.”

The decision by Merthyr follows a similar decision by Guernsey FC who play in the Isthmian League. Guernsey’s decision was confirmed by the Alliance Leagues committee of the FA, and Isthmian League chair, Nick Robinson, confirmed that Guernsey will be welcomed back next season.

“We are delighted to retain Guernsey FC in the league. We have agreed the suspension on the basis that the club will retain its place at Step 4 in season 2021-2022 and will be considered for placement in the event that circumstances mean we have to change the competition this season,” Robinson said.

Greater Manchester based Droylsden FC of the Northern Premier League, and Yorkshire team Shelley FC of the North West Counties have also announced that the continued uncertainty has resulted in them withdrawing from their leagues altogether.

Clubs in the National League, which organises the top two tiers of non-league football, have warned that unless at least 1,000 spectators are admitted to fixtures then the proposed kick off on October 3rd may have to be reconsidered. Without the commercial deals available in the professional game, football in non-league simply cannot survive without spectators.

With lockdown restrictions tightening across the country, officials are anxious to see what impact any new restrictions might have.

An FA spokesperson told the Non-League Paper: “Supporters are the life-force of our national sport and the FA hopes to see them return in greater numbers across the country as soon as it is safe and possible.”

At the same time the FA have asked for supporters to assist by keeping to existing guidelines, adding: “We must continue to work together and play our part by following all the relevant guidelines if this is to become a reality”.

The FSA recognises that public health has to be the priority. We have worked with football administrators and safety officers to ensure that the sport has some of the most comprehensive guidelines of any sector or industry. The preparations carried out in grounds have given supporters confidence that a safe return to football is possible.

The FSA’s head of national game Andy Walsh said “We believe it’s vital that decision makers understand the importance of spectators to the survival of lower league football and the central role that our clubs play in our local communities.

“We are pressing for a fair and consistent approach to the return of supporters. New lockdown rules may yet be delegated to local public health officials which could lead to an uneven pattern of rules across the country, and we would advise clubs and supporters to lobby their local councillors and MPs to demonstrate the effectiveness of safety precautions that have been implemented at their clubs.”

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