25 February ~ Being a long-suffering York City fan, I'm delighted that we are finally pushing for promotion. But the run-in is looking ominous, with our FA Trophy quarter-final with Barrow being called off with alarming regularity. Indeed, the harsh winter has become the biggest obstacle to success in the Blue Square Premier this year and the margin for error in the Conference is slight.
With only two promotion places up for grabs, frozen pitches are becoming the bane of managers’ lives. So it's time for the FA examine whether a 46-game season is practical at this level. Of course, it is not just Blue Square Premier sides completing this number of games over the course of a campaign, with the three divisions directly below the Premier League all doing likewise. However, due to the lack of funds available to non-League sides for pitch maintenance, the arctic conditions are far more likely to result in called-off matches. Undersoil heating is an almost unheard of luxury for Conference teams.
For a club such as York, stuck in the doldrums of the Conference since 2004 but currently in third place, the fewer distractions the better. But midweek games will be the norm until the end of the season and a potentially lucrative return to Wembley in the FA Trophy is likely to have a detrimental effect on the promotion push.
With only two going up, a club could miss out on automatic promotion by one point, finishing second, and still stay in the Conference. Throw in the fact that Oxford and Luton draw crowds the envy of most League Two clubs – York, Mansfield, AFC Wimbledon, Cambridge and Wrexham don’t do too badly in this respect either – and a 42- or 38-game season makes more sense for a league full of well-supported sides, freeing up space to then be allocated to rearranged games during the winter months.
As one of the privileged few who can still remember the ethereal feeling of staring at a League Cup scoreboard at Old Trafford that read Manchester United 0 York City 3, being robbed of promotion by the weather and a crammed fixture list would be a bitter pill to swallow. Adam Bushby