Wisbech Town’s fury over Thurlow Nunn League’s Dereham Town ‘ineligible’ player decision

Wisbech Town manager Steve Appleby. Picture Brian Purdy

Wisbech Town manager Steve Appleby. Picture Brian Purdy - Credit: Archant

Wisbech Town boss Steve Appleby has hit out at the Thurlow Nunn League for allowing title-rivals Dereham Town to replay a match in which they used an ineligible player.

Dereham Town boss Matt Henman. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Dereham Town boss Matt Henman. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

The Magpies, currently seven points clear of the Fenmen at the top of the Premier Division, were found guilty of playing Scott Roberts while he was suspended during their 2-0 victory over Diss Town in February.

Scott Roberts. Picture: Colin Finch.

Scott Roberts. Picture: Colin Finch. - Credit: Colin Finch

League secretary Nigel Spurling this week confirmed the result will be expunged, in a decision 'consistent with previous cases', and the teams will meet again on May 4 – four days after Wisbech have played their final league game of the campaign.

But a furious Appleby believes the league's committee have made the wrong decision and is debating lodging an appeal over the matter.

He said: 'It's farcical. Even in local football, if you make a mistake, be it intentional or genuine, the three points are deducted and the game is awarded to the other side.

'To give Dereham a small fine (imposed by Norfolk FA) and let them replay the match is criminal. They're getting off scot-free as they have a chance to get their three points back and could win by more goals, when goal difference may count towards the title.

'What makes me laugh is it's two months since the game was played and it's all only just come to light. If the points hadn't been added to Dereham's total they'd have been under more pressure as we'd have been a lot closer. These things could have made a difference.

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'I'm sure it wasn't intentional from Dereham. It happens. We've been told the league set the rule three to four years ago, but all these wrongs don't make a right. They need to get the rule right. And they can still make the right decision – docking Dereham's three points and not replaying the game. If they win the rest of their games they deserve to win the title. But I don't want these three points to be the major talking point at the end of the season.'

Lancaster City were deducted three points for committing a similar offence in Evo-Stik Division One North earlier this campaign against Ossett Albion. However, in the United Counties League last season, King's Lynn Town were offered the chance to replay their game against Boston Town for fielding Rob Hughes while he was suspended.

Much like the Linnets on that occasion, Dereham boss Matt Henman remains adamant his club did everything they could to check whether their player – who they were not sure had received a second booking during a previous reserve-team match – was eligible.

'In the week leading up to the Diss game we phoned Norfolk FA. They said Scott wasn't suspended and they hadn't received any paperwork,' said Henman, pictured, who used Roberts as a second-half substitute against Richard Daniels' Tangerines.

'The referee hadn't put the report in, but when he did it was deemed retrospectively that Scott had been ineligible. We had tried to establish whether he was suspended or not, but unfortunately we will have to play the game again. We feel we've been punished enough.

'I don't see why teams are worried about what others are doing though. Surely there are two teams involved, one Dereham and the other Diss. The league committee are elected so let's let them get on with their job and we'll get on with ours – which is to keep winning games.'

Thurlow Nunn figurehead Spurling praised Dereham's desire to get the matter concluded, after admitting the charge to Norfolk FA instantly, and stated the rules regarding fielding ineligible players only differ in cup competitions – where teams are automatically thrown out if they do so.

He added: 'Suspensions are something the county FAs have to deal with. We do not decide whether a player should or should not play. We deal simply with the game that was played. We have to be consistent with the previous cases, which have all been replayed. It's a policy which I, and we as a league, believe is the fairest way of dealing with such matters.'

Dereham now have seven league matches left to play, compared to Wisbech's six. The teams, who have both applied for promotion to Step Four of the non-league ladder, meet at Aldiss Park on April 23.

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