Emley AFC chairman Andrew Painten described a decision to null and void the North West Counties League last year “a tragedy of a decision that was made in haste.”

Emley were denied a promotion chance when Covid-19 wiped the season off the record books.

Fast forward to this season and unbeaten Emley were two points clear at the top of the Northern Counties East League Division One with promotion hopes high again when the league was halted.

While Painten said he would “never, ever” forgive last year’s decision at least lessons had been learned this time around.

“It seems like foresight has happened this time although again it could come back to bite us and be null and voided again,” he said. “But as things stand they are trying to push forward the restructuring of the leagues. I’m sure if that happened our club would be in the running for promotion but, of course, we would have preferred to win promotion on the pitch.”

Emley AFC players are a tight-knit bunch. Pic by: Mark Parsons

The FA are looking to restructure the league and Painten remains hopeful. He said: “This time they say they are going to discuss things further to find a way of sorting out what happens next.

“So it does seem to me that the FA do want to press ahead with the restructuring of the leagues, which includes different divisions at different levels and it’s quite a complex thing to understand.

“However it might mean a few more promotion spots at our level to get to the league above and so I am encouraged that they haven’t pressed the nuclear option like last time and just null and voided things, which was a tragedy of a decision that was made in haste.”

While the future is in a state of flux Painten believes uncertain times have brought people closer on and off the pitch.

He said: “We have a close-knit group of players, and I think it’s fair to say that in all the years I have been at the club we have never had as close a knit group of players as we have now.

“I include the management and committee in that too. Everyone has supported each other in different ways.

“I’m not on the players’ WhatsApp group – and I’m glad I aren’t! – but, as I understand it, it is still bopping away with plenty of banter and jokes and support for each other.

“To a man they can’t wait to get back training and playing. Usually players who pull on our shirt love playing for the club. I don’t know any player who doesn’t look back with fondness on their time here.

“Our club is a special place and we want to make it even more special by rising through the leagues.”