AFC Mansfield manager Rudy Funk is furious over the Northern Counties East League’s decision to extend the season by a week, allowing promotion rivals Picking Town to play three outstanding games to overhaul them on goal difference.
Funk said the Bulls had played by the rules laid down at the start of the season and managed to fit games in and get games on when the odds were against them and he feels ‘devastated’ Pickering were given this late advantage when he said they also drafted in players from the league above to finish the job.
There is still an outside chance that, having finished third, they could go up. But Funk is also livid that the Evo-Stik League are using points won per game to grade potential newcomers and the Bulls, who played 42 games, are second in the queue from feeder leagues to a club who only had 38-game season.
“I am devastated how we have been treated as a club by our league,” said Funk
“Nobody speaks up as people are happy to go along with things. But I am different. I speak up and say it as it is.
“AFC Mansfield this season have been absolutely outstanding – everyone involved with the club. We have done everything right and been very professional about everything.
“We had a 96 points tally by the last game of the season but paid a very dear price for doing things right.
“I was hugely disappointed when they announced they would extend the league by a week. They should have looked at the leagues above us who completed their games within the time allocated from the first day to the last.
“For our league to have the audacity to extend it for a team in direct promotion battle with ourselves and give them a three game advantage after we’ve finished our season is absolutely beyond anybody’s belief.”
He added: “I wouldn’t have a problem if some wasn’t involved in promotion or relegation battles.
“But when something is at stake and there’s such a lucrative prize at the end of it, for our league to do that I personally think is an absolute joke.
“And for Pickering to draft players in from the EvoStik to complete their fixtures – that’s just completely wrong. I find it unsporting and disrespectful to guys like ourselves.
“I am old enough and strong enough to say I was heartbroken. I felt all week like I was in front of an electric chair waiting for them to pull the lever.”
Funk said other leagues showed better leadership in forcing their clubs to find a way to complete fixtures on time, despite all the bad weather.
“Both Pickering and Pontefract had three more games after we’d finished,” he said.
“The Evo-Stik League was well behind too, but they made clubs play day after day to complete the fixtures in time. If this league has aspirations to be like them they have to adhere to it.
“If your ground is waterlogged, play the game somewhere else. You have to find the time and space to deal with it.
“I am very very bitter about it. We’ve done it right. We could have called games off but instead we’ve fought and done everything to get games on.
“The biggest laugh, although they had three stabs at it after we finished, they’ve finished on the same points as us and only seven goals separate us. That’s a complete joke.”
Funk and his players are now waiting to see if they could still be accepted for promotion with such a fine record over the season.
“To top it off, there is a possibility third place could go up as well. But the way our system works, it’s down to points per game,” he said.
“We are sitting second at the moment in the total points per game in England. The team who sits top is a team that’s only played 38 games and we’ve played 42. Is that fair?
“So we are also paying a price for playing 42 games. Why don’t they take a level at 38 games? Nobody seems to care or say anything as everyone wants to be nice.”
Funk said the season extension ruined what should have been a thrilling last day for everyone.
“I know if the league had finished on the day it should have done the picture would be completely different,” he said.
“This will leave scars for the rest of my life as we’ve worked our socks off.
“How good was that last day in League Two with Mansfield, Lincoln and Coventry – the nerves, the tension? It’s excitement. That’s what we want in life. No sporting advantage to anybody.
“On their last game last Saturday Pickering had to win away. They were about nine minutes from the end and it was 1-1 and then they scored.
“The boy who scored the goal they’d drafted in from the EvoStik. That’s another absolute joke. That would never have happened if the league had not been extended.
“We have been robbed from left to right in every way, shape or form, for doing the right things.
“I am coming up to 20 years being a manager and I learn every day. I have seen the majority of things you can imagine in football on the pitch, off the pitch and behind the scenes.
“But I’ve never, ever experienced anything like this. It not just disappointing, it destroys people.”
He continued: “It’s not about me or the players, it’s about everyone involved in our community.
“When we had the big snow and torrential rain, they were on the pitch at seven in the morning to make sure we got the games on.
“Then, all of a sudden, the league extend it by another week. It’s diabolical. If we knew that would happen from day one, you could not argue. We got the games played within the time span given.
“It’s their audacity to give my direct competitors three more games after I’ve finished. With 96 points in any league you’d probably win it.
“Pickering had three stabs at it and only finished up with the same points, even after drafting other players in.
“I have had so many messages from people saying how wrong it is. This must never happen again. It leaves scars. But who seems to care?”
AFC Mansfield still have the League Cup final against Liversedge to play at Sheffield United’s Bramhall Lane on Monday, 21st May after a hard-earned 4-2 away victory over Bridlington Town last night.
“We had to regroup and we had a difficult midweek away trip to Bridlington and the lads were absolutely magnificent.
“Before the game there were no heads down. I underlined to them they’d done the club proud all season, as have the local community.
“We now go to an ex-Premiership club ground. The setting is just absolutely fantastic.
“This season shows the progress this club has made over the last few years.
“We are looking forward to it. Hopefully it will be a great game and you never know.
“The first competitive game of our season we played the Inter-League Cup down South and won it. Hopefully we can cap off an amazing season by winning the League Cup. But I am still feeling very, very bitter.”