EASTWOOD Town manager Paul Cox says he is ‘totally gutted’ for his players and the club’s fans after expulsion from the Blue Square Bet North play-off competition was confirmed this week.
The Football Conference turned down an appeal from the club following last week’s announcement that Coronation Park fails to meet the necessary grading criteria for Eastwood to both compete in the play-offs and ultimately play in the Conference Premier.
And with the Badgers back in the top five following a 2-0 win at Stafford Rangers on Tuesday night, the news is a bitter pill for Cox to swallow.
He said: “The players have been fabulous and put themselves through the mill for this club over the season and I’m totally gutted that they won’t get the chance to compete in the play-offs should we finish in the top five.
“But we want to keep on winning and finish as high as we can. We have to abide by the rules and just keep going.
“We’ve got a target of 73 points that I still want us to reach so that will give us something to aim at.
“We’ve risen up the table so quickly and the players have done so well, and I hope our fans will come out in force on Bank Holiday Monday against Solihull for our final home game and show their gratitude.
“Tuesday’s win said a lot about the players because they were devastated by the news but went out and did a great job against a side fighting for their lives at the bottom, so they deserve massive credit.”
Despite the visit of Football Conference officials to Coronation Park on Tuesday, pleas to allow the club to compete in the play-offs fell on deaf ears and the decision was upheld.
Dennis Strudwick, general manager of the Football Conference, said the decision was based on issues surrounding seating, and insisted the club should have been aware of the rules.
He told the Advertiser: “To be allowed to compete in the play-offs, and therefore potentially gain promotion, clubs must have 500 seats in a maximum of two separate locations with a satisfactory view of the playing surface.
“Eastwood currently have those seats but in four different sites. Even had they won the league they would not have been allowed to go up.
“Every club is sent out a document outlining the rules at the start of the season, so Eastwood will have had this twice now. We allowed them a period of grace last season to get Coronation Park up to the relevant ‘B’ grade to remain in the league, but it wasn’t possible to do this again.
“We simply could not bend the rules as I would have been guaranteed to get letters with notice of legal action drop through my letter box straight away from those clubs who could have missed out on a play-off place and who do meet the criteria.
“It’s a regrettable situation but each club knows the rules.”
Mr Strudwick also clarified why Guiseley will be allowed to compete should they finish in the top five, with their ground also not currently meeting the grading criteria.
He added: “Guiseley’s situation is a Football Association matter and relates to issues with the changing rooms, for which planning permission has been granted to enlarge during the summer to suit the relevant guidelines.”
Badgers chairman Tony Minnis was unavailable for comment before the Advertiser went to press, but a statement on the club’s website following the final decision emphasised the strength of feeling.
It read: “After a two-hour hearing with the Football Association, and genuinely believing that Eastwood Town had the significant stronger case both morally and legally, it was decided by the Football Association to dismiss the appeal without even giving any rationale or justification.
“Rob (Yong) and Tony would like to thank all parties for their efforts in contesting this decision and will issue a more detailed announcement over the next couple of days.”
Meanwhile Cox, who has endured a busy week away from football too with his fiancee having given birth to a baby girl in the early hours of Sunday morning, reiterated that the aim is to remain positive for the remaining games and take solace in the club’s progress this season.
He added: “The lads are paid to play football and whilst it would be easy to throw in the towel they’re not that kind of bunch and that showed at Stafford.
“When you look back over the season, we did have a poor start but once we got going we had another run to the FA Cup first round, some great performances in the FA Trophy, and then this unbelievable rise up the table to see us battling for what could end up being a top four spot.
“The Conference Premier held no fear for me or the players.
“I’m convinced we’d have been good enough to survive but unfortunately, this time, we won’t have the chance to prove that.”