The 2020/21 Fermanagh and Western league season will not take place, following the Management Committee’s decision to declare the current campaign null and void at a meeting on Monday night.

Faced with a shortened calendar and the potential of further Coronavirus restrictions in the New Year, they took the decision that completing a full season was not a viable option.

They have opted to replace the league season with a new competition that will not include relegation or promotion, and will run alongside the traditional Mulhern and Rehill Cup competitions.

The committee discussed options including continuing the season as planned and also splitting the season at the halfway stage to reduce the overall number of games, but felt neither of these options provided a viable pathway to a successful conclusion.

Current restrictions are scheduled to be lifted on Friday December 11, but with no training currently taking place it was felt a return to competition the following day was not viable.

A restart the following Saturday was also in doubt as Derry and Strabane District Council had indicated they were unlikely to reopen pitches until the New Year, and with Fermanagh and Omagh District Council closing pitches throughout the Christmas and New Year holidays, training would be further restricted leaving a December start unlikely.

“The unanimous decision of the members of the management committee is that there was no chance of getting a full season completed,” revealed Fermanagh and Western League Chairman Neil Jardine.

“Everybody is talking about new restrictions in the New Year and the weather is another unknown. There were too many factors outside of our control to try to finish the full season, and we discussed midweek dates but we couldn’t get venues and there weren’t enough available dates.

“The general opinion was that it was nonsensical to be scheduling fixtures when everyone’s opinion was that it could not be finished.”

“The other option we talked about was getting to 13 games and splitting the league. Some people favoured that, and some didn’t like it at all. That would be 15 to 17 more games to play and we thought that even that, when you factor in Mulhern Cup, Rehill Cup and Junior Cup, was getting beyond the realms of possibility as well.

“Also, that would have required an EGM rule change and there would be no guarantee that would go through because you need a 75 percent majority.”

The committee decided they would make every effort to complete the cup competitions, and will now devise a format for the new competition that will provide football for all teams in all divisions, starting on Saturday January 16.

“We will definitely be organising standalone competitions for all our teams to play in, it’s just we have to decide what format that will take,” revealed Jardine.

“It will not be just a kick about. There will be something to win at the end of it and it will be properly structured, and we have set up a sub group of the management committee to look at that and decide what format that will embody.

“We will aim to get matches going, if possible, on the 16th January subject to any additional restrictions being imposed by the Executive. We will also bring in our two Cup competitions, the Mulhern Cup and the Rehill Cup, and they will drop into their traditional dates.

“We still don’t know what way the Junior Cup is going to work in as that is another unknown, but we will endeavour to start next season as normal on the third Saturday of August in 2021, and the divisions will be as they were at the start of this season subject to teams dropping out or new entries.”

Neil is conscious of the magnitude of the decision made by the committee, with only the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001 resulting in a similar ‘null and void’ outcome in recent history.

“We don’t take a decision lightly to cancel this season so early, but we can’t go on with the uncertainty and we didn’t want to have to make a decision about null and void further down the line when half a season has been played and teams were in with a chance of winning or getting relegated,” he explained.

“We could be sitting at the end of March after a great winter with no further restrictions, and the League could be three quarters of the way through and we would be wondering why we made the decision so soon, but it could also be the case that we only have only three or four games played by that stage.

“The people making these decisions are elected on to the management committee and there are a lot of people with a lot of years on the clock in local football, so it is not made by people who don’t know. Nobody is making a decision from self-interest. They are trying to see the bigger picture and what is best overall.”

Neil is well aware that the decision will not be welcomed by all the clubs, but he is hopeful it will be accepted and they can all move forward to make the best of the disrupted season.

“Nobody is happy we are stopping the season until August next year,” he said.

“Football, by its nature, is emotive and that is why we are all involved in it. These decisions are very emotive as well because some people will think this has to be done, and some will think it can’t be done. We know that some clubs will welcome it and a lot of clubs will accept it, and other clubs will not like it.

“This is open to appeal and that could well happen, and then we will have to sit and wait until that comes off. That might even put a further delay onto things. It is a very, very difficult decision, and it is not something we ever contemplated having to do, null and voiding a season in November. Whatever we decided we know we weren’t going to satisfy everybody.”