Stephen Cleeve: There's stress on and off the pitch in the National League

Notts County manager, Neal Ardley

Notts County parted company with manager Neal Ardley this week - Credit: Ian Burt

It has been another eventful week in the National League with life moving at several miles per hour faster than it probably should.

We've had two more managerial casualties, this time at promotion-chasing Notts County and Bromley, with Neil Ardley and Neil Smith losing their respective jobs.

Notts County have brought in Ian Burchnall, which is an intriguing appointment. The new Notts County manager at just 38 years of age has already managed two clubs in Norway and Sweden and the fans certainly took to him at both Viking and Ostersund. His last role saw him follow in the footsteps of Graham Potter, who now manages Brighton, so it is certainly an appointment worth keeping an eye on.

It has not been an easy week for King’s Lynn Town. Firstly, we had to travel the best part of 1,000 miles to visit Torquay and Altrincham, both games ending in defeats, although in my view we deserved at least a point at Plainmoor.

Just visiting our opponents is a stressful experience, even for those of us off the pitch. Torquay’s policy is to refuse to let any visiting directors or club secretaries into their stadium. I was allowed in only by taking the title of Covid officer for a day.

My nine-year old son Luka, who was looking forward to a couple of days away with his dad (as was his mother, who was looking forward to halving her weekend stress), was refused permission to watch the game. When I arrived, I was given an executive box behind the goal so, as my son and I are in the same bubble, it seems a little odd that his presence seemed so risky to Torquay.

Torquay also banned all our media and photographers and yet when they came to The Walks, we let all their media staff in, although this was our only game this season with fans allowed in - but we were given two streaming passes to compensate.

When we visited Altrincham on Tuesday night they were far more accommodating, allowing all media staff access, and inviting my son if he wished to attend (he did, but his mother rightly told him that school was more important). Our match-day secretary was deemed an essential member of staff.

Altrincham informed me that their secretary was allowed into Torquay so that begs the question of why are some officials allowed by some clubs and not others?

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Wealdstone kindly greeted us with a lasagne and a big cheery welcome, Dagenham were in a Covid hotspot so were much stricter, but tried their best; even giving me a bottle of milkshake as I passed through the entrance.

Notts County gave the four of us a room which could comfortably have seated 200 and Hartlepool gave us a table next to their home directors with an array of scouts and others close by.

Every club interprets the rules in a different way and many have views which are the polar opposite to each other – in my view there has to be a certain number of officials allowed into the ground. If there is an issue, maybe a flare-up on or off the pitch, and the club find themselves being charged by the FA, how can the club respond when no one was there to see it?

The National League season will kick off next season on August 21, which is later than the Football League, which starts on August 7,  and the Premier League, which goes again on August 14. The thinking behind this is seems to be that lots of fans will still be on holiday in August and the National League play-offs would be the final game of the English football season which should increase TV viewing numbers. I think there is some sound logic behind the decision (not that we had any say in it).

Let’s see what next week brings.

Meanwhile, Dover Athletic have been fined and docked point for failing to fulfil their National League fixtures. 
They remain the only club in the league to do so.
The National League has handed out a deduction of 12 points for the 2021-22 season and also fined the south coast club £40,000.
In a statement, the league said their Independent Panel had to “consider the integrity of the competition and the actions of Dover Athletic in relation to the other 22 clubs that continue to incur much costs as they fulfil their fixtures. 
“Dover Athletic had avoided costs by not completing their season alongside the other 22 clubs. 
“In addition, the National League basic award meant they were significantly benefiting from not completing the season compared to the 22 clubs that continued.
“The Panel concluded that three points per breach should be deducted from the club’s record in playing season 2021/22. 
“In view of the current financial situation and in order to reflect the approach taken in other cases of breaches of Rule 8.39, the Independent Panel reduced the initial fine by 20pc to £40,000.”

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