Toolstation Western League Podcast host, Ian Nockolds, is back with the latest round of interviews, this time welcoming Western League Fixture Secretary, George McCaffery, to discuss fixture disruption and the arrangements for Promotion and Relegation this season. Below is a continuation from last weeks interview:

Ian Nockolds: When we think about football, further up the pyramid, obviously the professional game, but even higher levels of the non league game. It feels to me the fixture list is sacrosanct. But from listening to you, it feels that actually we try to be a bit more proactive with our clubs in order to facilitate not just like you said, for example, the sponsor game, or the big game, you know, the big gate, but actually local games long distance travel, I guess clubs need to recognise, we’re all in the same boat here, actually. So by doing one club a favour, you might find that you need somebody else to do you one as well.

George McCaffery: Yes, very much so. I find it surprising at times when I speak to a club and they say “I’ll speak to the manager” and then it comes back that the manager doesn’t want to do that because... and I go “okay, but you are aware that if I don’t do this, the other team are going to have to do a long distance journey. And what’s your manager going to say when I tell him that at the next postponement that he’s got to travel 200 miles midweek?” That’s the problem. If you start involving everybody in your decision making, they are not necessarily looking at the big picture. They’re just looking at their personal. Whilst I can take that into account, there are times when I have to say, sorry, you’ve got to do this.

Ian Nockolds: I mean, the other people in the equation are the fans. And there’s nothing more frustrating, and we’ve all done it, than traveling for an hour or so, possibly even longer, turning up at a game and finding out that it’s been postponed. So what’s the process for clubs to try and make sure that doesn’t happen?

George McCaffery: Well, you’ve already heard me mention communication, that’s essential. And one of the big things that we’ve introduced, is the use of technology. And so what we want the home club doing is one, informing the away club and the match referee of their concerns earlier on in the week. And what they can do is then set up a suitable time on the Thursday or the Friday, to do a remote pitch inspection. And they can do that via FaceTime, or whatever technology is available between the club and the referee. That can be done. If we’re under severe weather warning, as we have been, then as a league, we’re allowed to postpone the game on the Friday. And as you saw, last weekend, we postponed a couple of games on the Friday, because there was no hope of recovering the pitches. So by having that communication, then you’ve got the match referee there making the decision remotely, but at least he knows. So what we don’t have is the match referee turning up without any information and seeing this mud bath with pools of water everywhere or big piles of sand. And he goes, well, player safety. We can’t play on that. So that’s not likely to happen. But will it? Yeah, if the communication isn’t done. That will only happen, for instance, if the match secretaries away and the club don’t have somebody in place to do it. And so I’m aware of that. So it can happen. But we’ve hopefully alleviated that problem by having a strict protocol and it follows up quite well. We haven’t had any situations like that.

Ian Nockolds: I’m sure that there are people reading this who was sort of banging their head against the wall saying ‘well, surely the obvious solution to all of this is just to carry on the season beyond the end date.’ But it’s not quite as simple as that, is it?

George McCaffery: Because God bless them, the FA have now introduced playoffs. So the season will finish on the 20th April. I’m sure your listeners are aware that whilst we’re in a bad position, there are going to be other leagues. You know, just looking at Nottingham at the moment, I should imagine, you know, the league’s up there that are struggling to get games on. Whilst we’re not banging on the door saying, look, we need the season extended, they may be, you know, saying, look, we’ve got major problems. And we’ll have to wait and see. Could the FA move it? Yes, they could move the playoffs. Not our call and it’s a big call to make. But at the moment, it’s fixed to the 20th April. And it’s as simple as that.

Ian Nockolds: Well, as we’ve talked about the playoffs, let’s talk about the arrangements for promotion and relegation this season because it’s slightly different, again, from what we’ve been used to in the past.

George McCaffery: Yes. So ultimately, the Southern League, Southern Division are going to go to 22 clubs. So what we’ve done is we’ve been tasked to hold playoffs in the Premier Division. So our Champions will be promoted. and then second place will play fifth, third will play fourth. What does that mean? If you look at today’s table, Clevedon would be promoted as champions. Helston, would host Falmouth. And I think that’s probably the fifth time this season if it happened, and then the other one would be Bridgewater would play Buckland. And the dates for those are Tuesday 23rd or Wednesday, 24th April, and then the second game would be Saturday 27th. And then if you go into Division One, the same applies, except there is a criteria that the FA say that “if they meet the promotion criteria”. Currently, Bitton can’t be promoted due to their decision to resign and re-enter. That was one of the stipulations when they re-entered. And Cribbs Reserves can’t be promoted. But if we look at the situation, currently, Portishead will be promoted champions. Radstock would host Bitton, but it wouldn’t be Bitton, because they can’t be promoted, so they would host Wincanton. Then Cribbs would host Brislington. And again, if Cribbs aren’t given the opportunity to be promoted, then it would bring Bradford into that equation as well. So flexibility, which is likely to go on until almost the last week of the season, I should imagine. But if you just remember, first get promoted second, play fifth, third play fourth, unless they don’t meet, and then we can go all the way down to the sixth and seventh place.

Ian Nockolds: We can’t have promotion without relegation, sadly. What are the arrangements for that this season?

George McCaffery: Yeah, so the bottom club in the Premier Division will be relegated to Division One. The bottom three clubs in the First Division are liable for relegation, although that’s really dependent upon the availability of clubs who’ve applied for promotion from the feeder leagues. And obviously our feeder leagues are the Gloucester County, Wiltshire, Somerset, Dorset, Devon, and Cornwall, sorry, Penninsula League, East and West. So they feed up into our Premier Division and our First Division.

Ian Nockolds: A very complicated situation. Obviously, we will know more towards the end of the season. But as an overview, I think that gives us a pretty good idea of what we’re playing for this season, at least in theory. But I guess the central message is we’ve got to get there. And that’s about fulfilling these fixtures and hitting that FA deadline.

George McCaffery: Yes, very much so and I just like to say thank you to the supporters who go out there week in week out, but more importantly the volunteers.

One of the biggest problems we have by moving these fixtures is that we then get a run and I’ve got clubs that have got a run of four or five home games in a month. Well, that’s not ideal and people are like “it doesn’t matter” but it does. The volunteers are so critical in the presentation of the game of football at our level of football. You know, the programme editors, the production of the programmes, the tea huts, the food, the hospitality, the kit, the guy or the lady who washes the kit, you know. The guy who has to go out there and line the field. All of these people are volunteers. They do a sterling job. And we’re very much aware of that as a league and we’d just like to say thank you. They do a wonderful job to ensure that the players can go out there and play the game.

Ian Nockolds

Below is the first installment of the interview.