Non-League Paper – 25/26 September 2021

Article supplied by The Non-League Paper

THE WARNING from the Kent FA on the fall in numbers of match officials for grassroots fixtures makes for worrying reading. Put simply, without referees, the football system cannot function properly.

By David Richardson

In an open letter to clubs, the county FA’s referee development officer Nick Dunn explained the issues they, and many other county associations, seem to be facing in grassroots football.

He said: “We closed the 2020-2021 season with over 1,634 match officials affiliated; the most we have ever received. Ensuring transparency, at this present time of the 2021-2022 season we have 1,247 affiliated match officials, representing almost a 24 per cent loss.

“To put this loss into footballing terms, if each of those 400 referees lost were to referee approximately 20 games a season it results in approximately 8,000 matches being played without a referee.”

Dunn says the matches under their control without a referee are at an all-time high. Not only does this not help the grassroots game, but it makes the development of referees and the progression through the system tougher.

At The NLP, we’ve experienced first-hand the good work the FA are putting in to encourage the development of referees, and therefore retain them. But it’s always going to be hard to keep filling the tank when they are subjected to some of the abuse we see all too often.

Dunn points out that the conduct and behaviour of a minority of participants is not the sole reason for the drop-off, but he believes it is a fundamental one.

Where are we as a society and sport if a match official can’t turn up on a Saturday afternoon or a Sunday morning without fear of what might happen should they dare make a decision somebody doesn’t agree with?

Remember, it might not just come from a player. But spectators or parents overstepping the mark, managers and coaches failing to conduct themselves as they should.

Football is a passionate game. Nobody wants to take that out of it. But there is a very clear line that shouldn’t be crossed. And passion isn’t a good enough reason for losing control over a game of football – something everyone is supposed to be involved in because they enjoy it.

Verbal threats, physical attacks, abusive comments on social media after the game – yes, it’s a minority but it’s far too much.

Often culprits will be handed fines and suspensions. The authorities can only do what they can do, individuals have to take responsibility.

But the game as a whole must also pull together to stamp it out. Clubs must hand out their own individual punishments to the people associated to them who go too far.

Often, this concerns adults going over board at kids football. That’s even more worrying when a parent can’t control their reactions. We’d like to think they would realise the impact it has on their own child’s enjoyment.

The majority of people get involved as a match official because they enjoy the game too. No wonder some are choosing to walk away. Let’s put on a united front to keep them safe – and in the game.


Non-League Paper – 21/22 August 2021

Article supplied by The Non-League Paper

THE ONLY problem with pre-season predictions in print is people remember them. Sometimes they even cut them out and keep them. Some get stuck on a dressing room wall and used to create motivation or a siege mentality.

Of course, a correct pre-season prediction is worth its weight in gold. If you’ve delivered your tips in late July or early August and they come off by the end of April or May, then you can take your lap of honour. 

It’s part of the new season fun. Who has signed well? Who looks to have strong foundations from last season? Who might drop off? 

This season that has been harder than ever. The majority of Steps 3-6 didn’t kick a ball from November onwards last season, Step 2 stopped early, with just the National League’s top flight completing a full campaign. 

So it’s difficult to quite know how teams will come back. How players will return after missing so much competitive football. But, even when a full season has been completed, predictions are just that. Guess work! 

Because if we knew what would happen, then there wouldn’t be much point in all turning up every Saturday. 

The opening weeks are always fascinating. Most teams fancy their chances of having a special year, believing they can be the ones fighting it out even when no one else thinks they will be.

Just ask Sutton United. Not many expected Matt Gray’s side to be in the title race. Outsiders for a play-off place? Sure. But not leading everyone else and lifting the championship. 

Yet, last week they were at Cardiff City in the EFL Cup as they embark on their first ever season in League football. It’s quite a story.

And this season will throw up many more. Every league has its fancied sides, the big spenders who ‘should’ be in the mix. But every league will have some who come from nowhere, where everything falls into place and it they really do have the season of their lives. 

Like Hornchurch last season celebrating FA Trophy glory under the arch. There can’t have been anyone in the country who foresaw that happening. 

This weekend the Step 1 clubs are getting underway to make it a full Non-League house. 

The FA Cup is in full swing, crowds are up, goals are flying in. It feels almost normal again.

There may be some bumps in the road this season, Covid hasn’t gone away and a glance across the fixture list shows the pandemic is still having an impact on postponements. 

But, after a long absence, it feels good to be inching back towards that routine. And the normality of all my predictions falling flat on their face by the end of September! Enjoy your game…


Non-League Paper – 14/15 August 2021

Article supplied by The Non-League Paper

So, here we go again! The 2021-22 season is almost upon us – for some it’s already underway.

Most of Step 5 and 6 started from July 31 – July! –  while this weekend (August 7) the FA Cup gets started with the Extra Preliminary Round, only nine months before the final on May 14.

For many, competitive football makes a welcome return after an enforced break from the game due to the pandemic.

At NLP HQ we have everything crossed for a ‘normal’ season, Covid has taken its toll on us too, but we’d like to thank our loyal readers for helping us to keep producing the paper every Sunday. We’ve not missed one weekend since the pandemic began or indeed for the last 21 years!

The previous 18 months in Non-League has been tough to say the least for all involved. The 2019-20 and the 2020-21 seasons proved fruitless for many although the FA’s restructure did at least provide some upward movement for clubs at Steps 4-6.

Step 3 can rightly feel hard done by having been stagnant throughout this time.

It’s why the FA’s Alliance Committee has been formulating contingency plans, with the feedback of clubs, to try and prevent any more ‘null and void’ seasons.

There are three approaches to the contingency plans:

Approach 1 – if the season successfully starts between August 14, 2021 and October 31, 2021, but it becomes clear that a division cannot complete 100 per cent of its fixtures, league tables would still be finalised providing the division has completed at least 75 per cent of its fixtures. Final league standings would be determined by using unweighted points per game and promotion and relegation would take place based on those standings.

Approach 2 – if the 2021-22 season cannot commence on or before October 31, an alternate competition would be implemented, with several potential formats under consideration determining promotion and relegation.

Approach 3 – if there is insufficient time for the regular season to achieve 75 per cent of fixtures, or an alternate competition to be completed, a supplementary competition would utilise results from completed fixtures in the 2021-22 season to avoid clubs playing opponents more than twice and ensure there is sufficient data to determine league standings.

The objective is to ensure promotion/relegation but, of course, this cannot be guaranteed. Who knows which way the pandemic will turn next. Such was the extent of the disruption last season, any number of contingency plans wouldn’t have prevented the curtailment of Steps 3-6.

Hopefully, these plans will never see the light of day, but at least they are there if needed.

Eventually, we will have all stopped talking about Covid! Until then, we wish you a safe return to football and a successful season following your team. One thing is for sure, win or lose, we must cherish standing on the terraces at 3pm on a Saturday!

Contact The NLP: NLP@greenwayspublishing.co.uk


Seniors – Saturday 10 October 2020

First Team edged out by Bovingdon

Tristan Potkins takes a deep breath and reports…

A rare occasion with both teams at home in the league saw the First Team host Bovingdon Reserves having dispatched their ‘A’ team 4-0 in the cup last time out. A sluggish start with a bobbly pitch saw a few chances conceded early on as Knebworth took a while to put their foot on the ball. Eventually some nice football saw a ball come into the opposition box that the Bovingdon goalkeeper fumbled for Seb Melendez to get his first of the season from full back. However, this did not settle the game down, and almost straight from kick off Bovingdon were awarded a corner that saw them win a header at the near post to make it 1-1.

After the hectic start, Knebworth handled the opposition on the whole defensively, as the ball mainly remained inside the opposition’s half. There was only one moment for concern where Dan Smith looked to have handled the ball outside his box but the absence of VAR at The Rec was noticeable. Myles Thomas was winning virtually everything in the air, with George Kirtsides enjoying a fair share of the ball down the right flank supported by Jimmy Agnew. It was on the right side of the pitch that a player was brought down to give Charlie Pratt the chance to send us in 2-1 up from the spot, only to be denied by the crossbar.

The second half was mostly Knebworth’s, with Alex Richardson going through one-on-one with the goalkeeper only to be denied, and multiple corner kicks creating the opportunity to put the ball in the box. It is worth commending the patience that was shown given the growing frustration at not finding that second clear cut chance, a frustration only apparent by a fairly noticeable voice break from somewhere within the Knebworth defence.

The game was soon decided when Christian Grindal, who has been putting in some great performances on his return to senior football, looked to have a situation in hand only to misplace a back pass to Smith and hand the Bovingdon striker an early Christmas present. Disappointment aside at the Ks third league loss by a one goal margin having seen yet another notable improvement, there is not yet cause for concern. Football may well be a results based business, and we know some people will be watching with a keen eye, but we are only four games into the journey and management maintain full confidence that once that first win is found, we will go from strength to strength. Things are improving at a weekly rate, and I invite you to check back at the end of the season and see that for yourselves.

Raja Tandoori man of the match: Seb Melendez, with notable mention for Myles Thomas

Seb Melendez – image courtesy of Tilly Sleator

If you missed the match programme, download your copy here

Photos available from the match with special thanks to Tilly Sleator

Next Saturday, 17 October, the First Team travel to Hertford Heath for their fifth Herts Senior County League Division One fixture; 14:30 kick off at Trinity Road, Hertford Heath, SG13 7QS.

Reserves beaten by Bedmond Sports

Matt Cooper reports from the ‘top pitch’ at Knebworth Rec…

On a cold and windy Saturday afternoon, Knebworth Reserves hosted a Bedmond side sitting just below them in the table. It was a changed XI from last week as first team call ups and injuries led to Knebworth only being able to name 2 subs with one of the starting XI only able to play the first half.

It was a scrappy opening 30 minutes with both teams battling to gain the upper hand and very few chances created.

The deadlock was broken on 35 minutes when Bedmond scored from a set piece, Knebworth were unable to win the first header and the ball dropped kindly to an unmarked Bedmond attacker who had time to take a touch and lash into the top corner.

The remainder of the 1st half was all Bedmond with strong defending from the Knebworth back four and goalkeeper Alfie Pettitt holding the score line at 1-0 going into half time.

Half time saw a few tactical tweaks and a substitution from Knebworth as they looked to turn the tide of the game.

It was a much improved performance in the second half from Knebworth with the boys hitting the woodwork three times in a 20-minutes period. Great efforts on goal from Jack Dunn and Owen Hatfield sandwiched a glorious opportunity missed by George Phillips.

The centre back pairing of McKechnie and Rose we’re dealing well with the Bedmond attacks until a unfortunate collision saw Rose go off with a head injury. Skipper Josh Kirby and midfield partner Liam George continued to dominate in the middle of the park as the half progressed.

As Knebworth pushed and pushed for a goal, Bedmond struck the deciding blow and killed the game off with a good finish on the counter attack.

The final ten minutes saw Knebworth continue to push but the race had been run and it was the visitors that came away with all three points.

Extrastaff man of the match: Tommy Rowe

Next Saturday, 17 October, the Reserves welcome Buntingford Town to the Recreation Ground (SG3 6AH) as the two sides compete for a quarter-finals berth in the Cecil Hudson Cup; 14:30 kick off.