Whitby Town boss Chris Hardy hits out at lack of leadership at non-league level

By Mark Staniforth, PA
PA Media: Sport

Non-league football’s failure to show strong leadership on the coronavirus crisis is “farcical” and “could ruin leagues and reputations”, according to one manager whose club are being asked to reluctantly play on.

Despite sweeping cancellations across the football world, the Northern Premier League is one of only two competitions still standing at step three or above, with 17 games expected to proceed as scheduled on Tuesday night.

For part-time players and managers like Whitby Town’s Chris Hardy, it raises a series of dilemmas involving increased exposure and the subsequent potential effects of absence from work, and the risk of passing on the virus to vulnerable relatives.

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Whitby players chose to cancel their team bus to Saturday’s game at Radcliffe Borough in order to keep the potential for infection to a minimum – only to be met with a swollen crowd of over 500 when they arrived.

On Tuesday, they will set off in cars once again for FC United, where they are expected to play in front of a crowd in excess of 2,000.

Hardy told the PA News Agency: “We are talking about something that is bigger than football. I’ve got a work place that I’m trying to keep operational, and there is a danger of me bringing coronavirus into that work place.

National League players celebrated by bumping elbows (Dave Howarth/PA)
National League players celebrated by bumping elbows (Dave Howarth/PA)

“Potentially my mortgage isn’t getting paid, and potentially my family is becoming exposed because of what has ostensibly been over-exposure because of the decision of the league.

“I’ve got a father-in-law who is in hospital at the moment with dementia, and I find myself visiting him after being in and around a football environment.”

Officials from various leagues were set to meet the Football Association on Monday, and were expected to be told once again that notwithstanding a government decree, cancelling fixtures will be at the behest of the individual leagues.

As of Monday lunchtime, all leagues at step four or above, with the exception of the NPL and the National League, had cancelled all matches until further notice. PA understands that NPL chiefs will push to continue.

At step five, there are further inconsistencies with competitions like the Combined Counties, Western and North-East Counties leagues suspended, but others – including the North-West Counties – due to continue.

A number of NPL clubs took the decision to call off matches on Saturday due to coronavirus concerns, a situation which drew comparison from Hardy to Middlesbrough’s controversial refusal to play their 1996 clash with Blackburn due to ‘flu’.

Hardy added: “Putting the health issues aside, isn’t there a danger that this becomes farcical, in the sense that I happen to get a lot of injuries for tomorrow, so I just pull the ‘corona’ card?

“There are too many inconsistencies at the moment and I think they leave the league a little bit vulnerable in terms of a potential backlash that may come off the back of it.

“At the moment, the majority are choosing one route and the minority are choosing another. It’s a decision that could ruin leagues and reputations. I just hope it doesn’t blow up in their face.”

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