Thursday, May 04, 2006

"Points mean prizes..."

"...what do points mean? PRIZES!" This week's prize is sure to delight every Gazelle enthusiast who hates his pets going astray - it’s this stamped addressed Antelope..."

Apologies for the random I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue reference, but it seems that in the world of non-league football points don't necessarily mean prizes anymore.

It used to be in football that a whole load of teams in a league would play each other a couple of times, some teams would get more points than others and the whole thing would be decided thus. Teams would be promoted, teams would be relegated and teams would stay in the same division they'd be in that season, all on the strength of the number of points they'd gained over the past nine months.

The Football Conference have managed to turn that on its head at the worst possible time - right at the end of the season. And all due to two words - international clearance. Apparently it's a form that has to be filled in if a player you're about to sign has played in another country in the last 12 months. It's a basic check to make sure he's not been banned from global football while playing in that country, or owes anybody any money over there, etc. Once the previous country's FA has cleared him to transfer clubs, the deal can go ahead.

It's a ruling that fans of Altrincham will be cursing right now. They won promotion back to the Conference National division last May after a five-year absence (ironically defeating Eastbourne Borough in a memorable promotion play-off at Stoke's Britannia Stadium) and after taking some beatings began to settle and looked as though they would avoid relegation. And then they signed James Robinson (above right) from Accrington Stanley in November and it all went Pete Tong. Evidently neither Accrington nor Altrincham thought to check if he had international clearance, after a spell playing in Iceland, and the Conference threw the book at Alty, deducting them all the points they had gained in matches he'd played - 18 in total. The points were reinstated after an appeal was lodged, and as the Beeb reports today, the hearing will be on May 23. If it is rejected, Alty go down - simple as that.

An online petition has been signed by thousands of supporters of non-league clubs in the vain hope of getting the suits at the Conference to change their minds. It's a very vain hope.

The same happened in Conference South, and threatened to decide who won the title. Weymouth signed midfielder Soloman Taiwo early in the season and he made just two appearances for them, one as a late sub when the Terras were winning 3-0. He also went on to play for Maidenhead. And just last month, sure enough, it transpires he "forgot" to tell either club he had had a spell playing in the States. The Conference, needing to be consistent, threatened to dock the four points from Weymouth that they had earned with Taiwo on the field - even if his two appearances added up to less than 90 minutes. The deduction was hanging over their heads even after they won the championship with a game to spare, as any penalty would have allowed St. Albans City back into the title race. As it transpired, Weymouth beat Lewes at home and St. Albans lost at home to Weston-super-Mare to make any deduction irrelevant.

But that's STILL not all! Histon are playing in the Conference South play-off final against St. Albans on Sunday, for the right to play in the Conference National next season, but themselves only got into the play-offs because two of the top five - Cambridge City and Havant and Waterlooville - were deducted points for fielding ineligible players - nothing to do with international clearance this time though.

The end of this season has been a total farce from the Conference's point of view. It does seem that, on the pitch at least, points don't necessarily mean prizes...


Blogger Aidan said...

A penalty finally finalised by them today. Utterly, utterly bizarre. Why is it Conference rules seem to get so much more stringently applied to the letter, than in the Football - actually, no, probably more so just the Premier League...?
No answers on a postcard really necessary...
Twas similar in the years when every Conference champion was being denied promotion on stadium stipulations, whereas once you're up, you're fine.
Or so it was, until my local council decided to step up their anti-Barnet FC bias an even more pathetic notch...
Shame today's European Commission report on the state of football pretty much confined itself to vague statements of the bleedin' obvious, and negotiations with the big clubs. While any discussions on what the lower-level clubs need is kicked into touch with all the finesse and directness of a Ben Thatcher special...

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