Frustrated Red Badgers playing the waiting game
Eastwood CFC are awaiting confirmation that they will be promoted to Step 5 football for the season ahead.
Changes are being made under the FA's restructure of football's pyramid, and the Red Badgers' fine form over the two truncated Covid seasons has been enough to put them in the frame to go up.
But, apart from a suggestion they would go into some sort of north division of a new-look United Counties League, Eastwood have no idea of their destination or opposition.
“We just want to know to move forward now and it's frustrating,” said manager James Jepson.
“We want to know who we are playing against so we can do our homework on the teams and who they've got playing for them.
“It's been a long two and a half years for one promotion but it looks like we're there.
“It will be nice for supporters as well as Eastwood deserves a better level than Step 6.”
After being invited to apply for promotion on points per game over two seasons, Eastwood believe they will pass all the criteria needed.
Jepson said: “They check your finances and status of the ground to make sure it's up to a certain level. I believe ours is up to Conference North anyway so we're good on that.
“Now it's just a waiting game. Based on the last two seasons points per game, we finished third with Sherwood and Heanor finishing above us.
“Facts say we deserved to go up.
“I congratulate Sherwood also as they are the best team we've played. Sometimes you have to hold your hands up. I think they will compete again.
“Congratulations to Heanor too. They have some excellent players. The manager has been around for number of years and knows what he's doing. They had to take a step down to take a step up and it's paid off for them.”
He added: “Promotion is nice for me but it's great for the chairman too as he's had a lot of hassle and he's worked hard for us and got me what I want in terms of kit, the ground how I want it, what it's like on a matchday, certain players and so on.
“We expect confirmation next week and I have my fingers crossed as, being totally honest, I don't really want to work at this level.
“Step 5 is a bit more serious in terms of better teams, better players and better grounds.
“Evo-Stik Step 4 is the start of real non-league semi-professional football for me. But in Step 5 over the years there have been some really good teams in it who've dropped down. So it is a serious level now and it would be nice to see some old faces.”
Jepson said Eastwood's reputation had made life harder for them since he joined the club
“Over my two and a half years here the pressure has started bubbling up with me being here and certain players playing for us,” he said.
“Everyone raised their game against us, especially how our ground is and the fact we get a few supporters. But it's been enjoyable.
“There has been a lot of jealousy to all of us in the top three, people going on about money all the time. It's boring to be honest.”
Jepson is not planning any major squad changes for a higher level.
“We want to go up and still play the same style and give these players an opportunity,” he said.
“We are not going to make loads of signings – two or three at the most.
“We don't have the resources and we have a good squad. We are ready to go and don't need anything drastic.
“We've have one player agree to sign – a young midfielder from Corby Town.”
He continued: “We want to compete, but we want to be realistic as well. We don't know the level or who is going to be in there.”
Looking back on the two wrecked seasons by the pandemic, Jepson said: “It's just been so frustrating and so stop-start, stop-start for everyone.
“So we organised some friendlies for the players' mindsets.
“They have been sitting around, but human beings need structure to their week and training Wednesday and a game Saturday has been good for us.
“The players wanted to continue to play and we will do so until the end of May.
“It's nice to be back out there and just seeing people. Hopefully we can get some momentum going now.”
He added: “We have Linby here on Saturday and then another game on the 29th when fans will be allowed back in, so we are hoping a few will come in to have a look at what we've done.
“We are not sure who we will be playing, we have a few options. But we'd like to see as many fans in as we can.
“Then we'll have a little break and mid-June we will go again.”
Chairman Jamie Bennett said: “With the FA restructure it looks like we may be elevated to Step 5 of the Football Pyramid.
“I think the way the elevation has worked is correct and teams who have performed in the past two years should be moved.
“But I do feel for the fourth place club as the agreement at start of the past season was four would go up.
“We look forward to Step 5 football at Eastwood CFC next season, which we also hope means that the club will compete in the FA Cup for the first time in its short history.”
“From a club perspective the past 14 months have been extremely difficult. As with most business in leisure and hospitality all revenues had basically stopped.
“There were small windows where we did open, but it was extremely difficult with Covid regulations in place.
“I personally hope the reopening of the economy is now a ‘no going back’ pathway as I fear more closure will mean even more clubs, who have had to duck and dive and borrow in many cases, will be here no longer.
“Many of our fixed costs remained the same so it has been a struggle.
“From a first team perspective, we've no real league football for past two seasons, just stop and start.
“So it’s our hope that when the 2021-22 season does start, we will see a full season.”