National League clarify playoff final decision to town’s MS
Wrexham’s Member of the Senedd, Lesley Griffiths, has received an explanation as to why the National League playoff final will be held at West Ham United’s London Stadium.
After weeks of rumours, The National League finally confirmed at the end of last month that this year’s showpiece finale will take place on Sunday 5th June at the host venue of the London 2012 Olympics, much to the disappointment of many Wrexham AFC fans.
While there is still no guarantee Wrexham AFC will be involved, fans were left frustrated as the game is scheduled to take place on the same day Wales host Scotland or Ukraine with a place at the World Cup at stake, meaning some loyal fans will have to choose between club and country.
Moreover, it is looking increasingly likely the playoff positions will be occupied by northern clubs so the decision to stage the final at the London Stadium on a Sunday during the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations did not appear to be the most sensible option.
Lesley Griffiths, who notes she attended her first match at the Racecourse Ground fifty years ago, wrote to the Vanarama National League seeking an explanation and scheduled a telephone call with the organisation’s General Manager, Mark Ives.
Wrexham’s MS said: “Realistically, I recognised it was always going to be a longshot to expect the playoff final venue to be changed at this late stage. However, after being contacted by a number of constituents, I believed it was important the fans’ voices were heard and for the National League to at least explain how the decision was reached.
“Although fans will remain disappointed by the overall outcome, I am grateful to Mark Ives for his thorough explanation and it is clear from the positive conversation I had with him the National League considered multiple avenues and options.
“Once the National League was aware the playoff date clashed with Wales’ World Cup qualifier, investigations were made as to whether the game could be moved to Saturday 4th June but it was, unfortunately, not a viable option operationally. Regarding the venue, I was reassured a number of potential options were explored, including in Wales, but many stadiums that met the requirements were unavailable.
“Ultimately, I hope this correspondence will be inconsequential and we won’t have to worry about the playoffs! With Wrexham top of the league after yesterday’s pulsating victory over Stockport, there’s every chance we’ll be celebrating promotion back to the football league on Sunday as champions.”
The letter from Mark Ives (General Manager, The Vanarama National League), seen by Wrexham.com, includes two sections detailing the main points:
a. The Date
I would like to address firstly the date of the game and the unfortunate clash with the Wales World Cup Qualification fixture.
Due to the impact of Covid over the last two years, disruption has been caused to the fixture schedules across the game resulting in a later kick off to the season over the past two years culminating in a later finish.
The Promotion Final must be arranged around other key fixtures in the domestic calendar so that a clash does not occur with participating teams as well as ensuring a suitable slot for the game to be televised. In fact, one of those fixtures, we avoid is the FA Trophy, which your constituents will have a keen interest in this season.
When the schedule was set 12months ago, taking into consideration the structured schedule for League fixtures, the Play-Offs and avoiding other key matches, the first weekend of June was the only suitable weekend for this fixture.
Importantly, it should be remembered at this stage neither the Queens Jubilee celebrations had been announced, which were released on 10th January 2022 nor was there any clash with the World Cup Qualification schedule caused by the unfortunate events in Ukraine.
Once we were aware of the clash with the World Cup Qualifier, even though we do not know who the finalists will be, we investigated the possibilities with the London Stadium of moving the date from Sunday the 5th June to Saturday 4th June but operationally, including considering the views of the Safety Advisory Group, this was not a viable option.
Whilst the clash of fixtures is not ideal, the kick-off times differ which will hopefully allow fans that attend the Promotion Final, no matter their allegiances, to enjoy both fixtures.
The second detailing the venue choice explains:
Turning now to considerations on the venue.
Traditionally the National League Promotion Final has been held at Wembley Stadium which appropriately recognises the status of the fixture. It should not be lost that there is a prize at stake of a place in the EFL reflecting the importance of this fixture. Unfortunately, due to other commitments, Wembley was not available for either the 2021 Final or the 2022 Final.
As you may recall, last season’s Promotion Final was held at Ashton Gate in Bristol and not only was it a memorable fixture the venue was also extremely well received from all that took part. We had hoped to return to Ashton Gate but unfortunately for operational reasons that was not possible on the dates we had for the fixture.
As early as October 2021 saw us start our journey searching for another venue. We of course need to ensure that venue is befitting for the Promotion Final and can accommodate the fan base of the two Clubs who may reach the final. There are also many factors that must be considered not only by the League but also the hot stadium which take time to resolve.
A challenge facing many venues is that pitch renovation works are commencing almost as soon as the last ball has been kicked in their domestic schedule, complicated even further for many Clubs due to the early start in the 2022/23 season required due to the World Cup, being played in the mid-season in Qatar, making their venue unavailable for this fixture.
I can assure you that we searched Nationally, including in Wales, to consider all options open to us that could meet the requirements we have for the staging of our final game of the season.
I know many of your constituents have voiced their concern to you that all six Clubs in the Play Off positions are Northern based. As it stands today, even following this weekend’s fixtures, the potential Play Off Clubs are still unknown, and at the time of writing, the eventual Champions is also unknown.
The Promotion Final could still include Clubs as far south as Dagenham and Redbridge, Boreham Wood as well as the more northern based Clubs including FC Halifax Town, Grimsby Town, Stockport County, Notts County, Solihull Moors, Chesterfield and of course Wrexham.
As mentioned, the search for the venue started in October when the landscape of those at the top of the table was completely different and it was impossible to predict the finalists. We are now only 4 weeks away from the final fixture and the teams are still unknown and to expect a Competition to select a ground at this late stage, even if we had no operational restraints on location, would still be a challenge to predict with certainty the finalists.
When considering all options, we are delighted to have secured the London Stadium, a legacy of the 2012 Olympics, which is a fitting venue for a final of this stature.
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