‘Doing a Sandhurst’ back in vogue as season heads to familiar end

Sandhurst Town players at Bottom Meadow. Photo: John Leakey.
Sandhurst Town players at Bottom Meadow. Photo: John Leakey.

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The 2023/24 season is going to end the same way with clubs ‘doing a Sandhurst’ – playing day after day to complete fixtures.

Play-offs, ground shares and the weather are combining again as they did at the end of 22/23 when the Fizzers [Sandhurst Town] made national headlines playing 13 games between the 6th and 30th April.

One ‘insider’ spoke to Football in Berkshire anonymously: “This weekend already looks like it’s on its arse, and the season is to.

“We have eight weeks left to schedule games. How can you have a proper competition when teams are playing three or four times a week, as we will be again.

“Competitions and play off places are being decided by how knackered teams are. The competition is completely skewed if it’s just tired teams playing each other.

“The hard cut off the play-offs force means there will be more teams doing a Sandhurst and playing every night of the week. That’s mental and unsafe for the players, it’s unfair on the supporters who’ve dedicated a year to following their team, only to have their chances evaporate because players can’t commit.

“It devalues the competition and all these gains we’ve made in crowd sizes will quickly evaporate. Unlike the rain.”

Combined Counties League makes call

A post by the Step 5 and 6 men’s competitions said: “Two league matches postponed tonight to allow a B & B Cup match to go ahead and now that game is called off. Time for a re-think upon match priority, esp as bigger clubs don’t take County Cups seriously in the first place judging by some of this season’s results.”

On Friday, Maidenhead United were the latest ‘big club’ to pull out of the competition after Wycombe Wanderers did the same thing. The Magpies were due to play MK Dons after beating Milton United. Meanwhile Reading City’s Fourth Round tie against Flackwell Heath has been postponed on multiple occasions due to the weather.

Ascot United are in to the semi finals of the County Cup. Photo supplied by Ascot United.
Ascot United are in to the semi finals of the County Cup. Photo supplied by Ascot United.

In recent seasons the men’s County Cup has provided some memorable nights for clubs lower down the pyramid. Long Crendon, Bracknell Town and Ascot United have all benefitted from matches against the counties professional clubs with strong attendances. This season, Burnham the spotlight will be on Burnham who host Reading FC in the Quarter Finals. It’s a night that will be one to remember for the blues whatever the outcome.

What can be done?

A recent bit of maths by the NonLeagueHQ Twitter account has revealed that division’s should be 76.9% complete by this stage of the season.

Only one division is above that number. The Hellenic League Division One is 77.2% complete while the Premier Division is at 75.8%.

That’s not to say there aren’t teams within the Hellenic competition that have some catching up to do, Brimscombe & Thrupp and Cinderford Town are behind the curve when it comes to games completed.

But what’s driven the Hellenic to have such a high completion rate? Especially as grassroots football watchers will know the Hellenic isn’t short of a knockout competition or two.

The simple answer seems to be front loading fixtures at the start of the season, which the Hellenic did do for 23/24. The competition has also instigated a rule where in the instance of a postponed game, both teams must come up with a new date that is inside 42 days of the postponement.

The aim being to get the fixture played before the turn of the year.

As it stands, the unpredictable weather has been around long enough, it’s almost predictable. The Hellenic League has tried to combat it and the stats speak for themselves.

It will be interesting to see in response to this piece, whether other competitions followed suit. The play-offs are almost certainly not going away, nor is the weather.

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