The SCFL - What Set Of Rules Are Teams Competing Under?

As the start of the 2017/18 football season rapidly approaches, there are still questions to be answered by the board of the Southern Combination Football League in Sussex, England as to their ability to apply a set of rules fairly across all of their member clubs.

The 2016/17 SCFL Premier Division title was decided off the field. Haywards Heath Town had finished top of the pile, however, another member club reported the team from Mid Sussex for fielding a player for three matches while under ‘Sine Die’ status. Striker Melford Simpson had an unpaid £10 fine from his time at Fisher FC and wasn’t permitted to play a competitive game of football again until the debt had been settled. Eventually Haywards Heath Town were deducted 9 points by the SCFL disciplinary committee which saw Shoreham handed the title and with it promotion to the Bostik League Division One South.

Heath had been hopeful of having the punishment overturned at appeal due to a number of mitigating circumstances; and because the SCFL had recent history of not punishing another member club for an offence which was more easily avoidable than Heath’s.

At the end of the 2015/16, Lancing Football Club fielded a player in their final league game and in the Peter Bentley Cup final when he should have been serving a 2 match suspension for accruing 10 cautions.

Lancing defeated Eastbourne Town in the league and went on to defeat Newhaven Town 2–1 in the cup final. Amazingly, The SCFL decided not to hand Lancing a punishment despite the Sussex F.A finding the club guilty of their misdemeanor.

The SCFL’s lack of action was made even more surprising as Broadbridge Heath were thrown out of the competition at the quarter-final stage for fielding an ineligible player. Why the inconsistency?

When Haywards Heath Town were found guilty at the end of this season, it was only natural that a large number of players; club officials; fans; and followers of Sussex football in general wanted to know why the SCFL have seemingly adopted a ‘one rule for one and not the other’ approach.

When pressed by a local newspaper, the SCFL responded by stating the case of Lancing FC was historical, had already been dealt with, and wasn’t relevant to Haywards Heath’s case. How can it not be relevant? They are two teams playing in the same league, both subject to the same rules. In each case a club fielded a player in games which they weren’t allowed to play in.

Your author’s opinion is that the SCFL didn’t act on Lancing FC breaking the rules as no one apart from the club, the Sussex F.A and the SCFL knew about it. Why strip the club of a cup if there was no pressure to do so?

In Haywards Heath’s case, it was another SCFL Premier Division team who raised the issue about Melford Simpson being ‘Sine Die’. The information went public, so the SCFL had to act.

The SCFL’s questionable decisions took a darker side at the league’s AGM a few weeks ago. A member of the board chose to reference the ‘disgraceful behaviour’ of a club chairman who leaked confidential information to another club. It’s publicly known that Lancing chairman John Rea blew the whistle on the SCFL via Twitter when Haywards Heath’s punishment was made.

It seems clear that the SCFL are very unhappy that the Lancing FC 
situation — which they swept under the carpet — was now having a very public airing.

The SCFL are damaged from this episode. If they want to have a reputation of being fair and sticking to the rules, then they need to come clean about the Lancing situation. Blaming a whistle-blower and refusing to address the elephant in the room is not the way to install confidence in any member clubs or to the hundreds of unpaid volunteers who work tirelessly all year round to keep their beloved teams running.

How will things work in the 2017/18 season?
At the moment the system appears to be as follows:

  1. If a club breaches league rules and you are reported by a fellow member of the SCFL, then the board will punish you.
  2. If a club breaches the rules but only the SCFL board are aware of it, then that club will not be punished.

The rule should be that the SCFL acts on every breach of the rules of which they are aware of, whether they learn of it themselves or if information is passed to them by a member club.

In addition, the SCFL should not use selective memory to justify their punishments at appeal hearings. It grows the suspicion that they have their ‘favourites’ among the SCFL teams depending on board member’s past affiliations.

Now is the time for the SCFL to come out and make a public statement, explaining why they’ve not been applying the rules equally, and to set out how they plan on regaining the trust of the SCFL member clubs, volunteers and fans for the forthcoming season.

As a volunteer at my local club, and having spent hundreds of hours helping their cause last season, I would be crushed if next season, my team were to lose out on something that they deserved purely because the SCFL failed to act on information they already held because a complaint hadn’t been made publicly.

If each club isn’t treated the same, then why are we bothering at all?

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