The FAW Premier League club find themselves the victims of fixture clashes caused by a build-up of games in four different competitions – and the apparent inflexibility of football administrators.
The Essex FA, which has thrown its county cup holders out for failing to honour their quarter-final tie against Billericay Town this Sunday, has now clarified the reasons behind its decision.
And at the heart of the issue lies an insistence by the organisers of both the Essex and London Capital Cup competitions that the Hammers honour their commitment to field their first teams in their respective tournaments.
The inevitable resulting fixture clash appears to have been compounded by a lack of flexibility by the FAW Premier League, dashing any hopes of West Ham’s Essex Cup tie taking place this weekend.
According to the Essex FA, it warned West Ham before Christmas of a potential fixture clash on January 18, with the Hammers due to meet Haringey Borough in the Capital Cup and Billericay Town in the Essex County Cup.
With both FAs insisting that West Ham field their first teams (presumably because that is what the club had entered before the competitions began), one of the games had to be moved.
The London Capital Cup took precedence because that is the tournament of West Ham’s parent football association. leaving the Essex Cup game against Billericay to be rearranged.
Attempts to reschedule that for the preceding Sunday – January 11 – were in turn scuppered by West Ham’s involvement in the FA Women’s Cup – which takes precedence – against Brighton.
So the game was scheduled for this Sunday, only to encounter another clash – with West Ham’s Premier League fixture – also against Brighton.
In a statement, the Essex FA said: “West Ham’s secretary informed us on Tuesday January 13 that the FA Women’s Premier League would not permit the club to schedule Essex Women’s Cup matches on Sundays.
“The Essex Women’s Cup is a Sunday competition, and as such, all fixtures up to and including the semi-finals should take place on this day. West Ham Ladies are not parented to the Essex County FA, so there is no requirement for their league to allow Essex Women’s Cup matches to take place instead of their own, and the FA Women’s Premier League have exercised this right.”
The Essex FA consulted all clubs remaining in the competition, resulting in its decision to “remove” the Hammers and put Billericay Town in the semi-finals.
It added: “We are fully aware that the Essex Women’s Cup is a competition West Ham Ladies have had great success in, and we meet this scenario with enormous displeasure. However, it is our duty to maintain the best interests of the competition as a whole at all times.”
Whether those best interests include the removal of the high-profile holders, managed by a former Premier League footballer, for an inability – rather than determined refusal – to comply with their rules, remains to be seen.
With West Ham indicating that discussions with the Essex FA are continuing – presumably in the form of an appeal – the club have not responded to invitations from Sent Her Forward to comment or clarify their position.
But a club source, who approached Sent Her Forward in the wake of yesterday’s article, said the players were “bitterly disappointed” that they could not defend their title because of “fixture congestion”, and indicated that the club had “no choice” but to play the Brighton league match this Sunday.
However, the source declined to say whether the club had been ordered to do so by the FA or FAWPL.
FA insiders have so far remained tight-lipped about their involvement, so I cannot confirm Essex FA’s assertion that the Premier League refused to allow its County Cup game to go ahead,
But to a mere mortal not involved with the red tape of football administration, it seems remarkable that a club can lose their right to defend a trophy they won – in a competition they clearly treat seriously – because organisers of other tournaments cannot provide the necessary flexibility to accommodate each other’s.
Surely switching West Ham’s Premier League game at Brighton to midweek – or to a vacant Sunday, if there is such a thing – to accommodate the Essex County Cup match would have solved the problem… although West Ham might have avoided this unseemly clash if they had entered their reserves into one of the county cups, as teams like Charlton Athletic do.
Ironically, Queens Park Rangers, who have also fallen foul of the cross-competition bureaucracy that governs the game this season, will play their postponed Capital Cup tie against KIKK United this weekend after calling off a scheduled Premier League match against Portsmouth.
The difference appears to be that as the Capital Cup is Rangers’ “parent” association competition, its matches do take precedence, even over the Premier League.