Fans groups unite to tell Conference: 'You don't know what you're doing'

MANSFIELD Town group Stags Fans United (SFU) has joined with two other supporters trusts to tell Football Conference administrators: "You don't know what you're doing!"

The SFU and trusts from Oxford United and Crawley Town have hit out and questioned the administrative procedures of the competition after all three clubs were docked points this season for fielding ineligible players.

And the OxVox, the Devils Trust and the SFU are calling on the senior administrators of English non-league football to raise their level of professionalism and to streamline and modernise procedures.

Already it is believed that the Conference has changed its procedures with regard to cross-checking the fielding of registered players, in light of the four known clubs to be punished over player registrations.

The SFU's Martin Shaw said: "It is farcical that three clubs in the BSP have suffered points deductions so far this season, in large part down to the inadequacy of the conference's archaic systems.

"In all cases, it is quite clear that there was no intent to gain an unfair advantage, nor could it be argued that any advantage was gained, as the issues were purely a technicality.

"Hence the deduction of points is absurdly out of proportion to the severity of the issue in each case, and we would urge the conference to accept their procedures were fundamentally flawed and to re-instate the points for the three clubs."

Stags suffer four points deduction

The Stags were deducted four points in October - sparking a slide from top of the table to the relegation zone - after it emerged that several players were not properly registered for the first two matches of the season, when they gained four points.

Blue Square South side Bognor Regis Town have also been hit by the growing farce with a seven point loss and then this week both Oxford United and Crawley lost points - though Oxford had been expecting to lose 11 rather than the eventual five lost, a fact which has left Mansfield Town FC closely monitoring the situation.

Stags monitor surprise Oxford ruling

An administrative error meant that Oxford failed to register Eddie Hutchinson - and the problem was not spotted by the Conference until the beginning of November. Crawley lost four pints over the registration of Isaiah Rankin.

It seems that the Conference had not been fully cross-checking player registrations against match team sheets, but merely picking out a few names to check.

Now it is thought that the competition has changed its procedures and checks every name on the team sheets of every match to avoid any future problems - a fact alluded to by Crawley chairman Vic Marley when he said on Monday: "This decision is extremely hard to take given the flawed registration procedures that the Football Conference Premier had in place in the early part of the season."

Earlier this week respected former head of the Conference John Moules said he was 'aghast' that non-registration could fail to be spotted for weeks or months - and said that in his time in charge any irregularities would have been highlighted within a few days.

There is a growing feeling among the Conference clubs that the three known cases could just be the tip of iceberg from the early part of the season - and there has been a call for an audit of all players and all BSP clubs.

However, some fans fear that this would reveal even more clubs to be in breach of Conference regulations and throw the BSP season into farce.

Supporters have also been questioning the role of Conference general manager Dennis Strudwick in this escalating problem - and pointed out that the harsh punishment does not fit the crimes as the clubs have not sought to gain any unfair advantage.

This week Strudwick told Chad, immediately after the ruling against Oxford and Crawley: "I can't comment at the moment as this is subject to appeal and clubs have 14 days to decide."

OxVox Trust (Oxford) chairman Trevor Lambert said: "It cannot be an accident that four clubs have fallen foul of these procedures within a short space of time this season.

"A system dependent on pieces of paper, fax machines and the post is not fit for purpose in 2009. A well designed online system for player registration should be used, enabling clubs to instantly notify the authorities of player registration requests and to receive speedy confirmation."

The Devils Trust (Crawley) is chaired by Mark Ogbourne, who added: "Any process wherein one party faces punitive action, even if they have successfully completed their responsibilities, with the other party not held accountable, even if possibly they fail to complete their part of the process, must be considered an unfair practice.

"Any anomalies must be identified straight away as retrospective penalties are counter to the spirit of competitive sport, it invalidates the matchday experience.

"The Conference needs to review how well it is serving its members. They must revise the process to enable transparency and accountability for all parties at source.

"This is quite clearly a failure of process, no-one is arguing that any club has attempted to deceive or gain an advantage through playing an unregistered footballer.

"In this context the Conference should consider their role in asking clubs to sign up to a flawed - heads we win, tails you lose - process and consequently review whether the points deductions are appropriate".

The Stags are still waiting to hear from the Football Association over a separate investigation into an alleged irregularity over O'Connor, who it is believed was registered with the FA with two clubs (Grays and the Stags) - a probe which started back in September.

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