Refuse to change fixture schedule
18 February ~ Fixture congestion is not an unusual problem at this time of year, but the situation in the Conference Premier this season is particularly extreme. The recent heavy rain, coupled with teams' commitments in the FA Cup and Trophy, have left the table with an unbalanced look. Braintree, who have played one league match in 2014, now have to fit 21 of their 46 fixtures into the next nine weeks. Promotion-chasing pair Grimsby and Cambridge face the prospect of playing every Saturday and Tuesday between now and the end of the season.
As it stands, Grimsby have seven games in hand on one of the teams directly below them (Halifax) and six on a team above (Nuneaton). Yet the clubs themselves vetoed a possible solution – 3G pitches – last month but the feeling among many fans is that the league itself could do more to help its members, either by playing more midweek games earlier in the year or extending the season, which finishes on April 26, two weeks before the culmination of the Premier League.
In the face of criticism, the Conference board have come out fighting. The league's PR and media director Colin Peake said: "We try to raise the profile of the competition by having our play-off final at Wembley, so we can only have dates they offer us. You can't book a stadium a week before you want it, and it's impossible to know which teams will make it to that final." He continued: "If you're a manager of a club, do you want to start the season playing two games a week right up until Christmas just in case the weather after Christmas might be dodgy? If so, when do you rest your squad? Clubs at our level do not have masses of players."
It is easy to understand the Conference's dilemma, especially as they have no control over the Trophy, a Saturday competition with midweek replays which takes precedence over league fixtures. But the bad weather, which Peake refers to as a mere possibility, hits at least one club every season, and perhaps it is time for the Conference to consider whether the prestige they think they get from hiring Wembley is worth cutting the season short for.
It also seems doubtful that many clubs would complain about more midweek games – and the chance to bank important income – earlier in the season, when they know they're going to be hit in the pocket by January postponements. With forecasters predicting more heavy rain in the coming weeks, the weather looks set to play a part in determining the futures of teams at both ends of the table. Matthew Gooding