NON-LEAGUE football has been increasingly dogged by weather-related problems in recent seasons, with regular weekend washouts in the winter months causing severe fixture backlogs up and down the country in the final months of the campaign.

This constant cycle of postponing and rearranging fixtures is a perpetual nightmare for league secretaries, while the prospect of an inordinate amount of matches in the final weeks of the season has made many managers shudder.

With global warming likely to ensure that the rainy winter periods are here to stay, several suggestions to mitigate the problem have been trotted out on those quiet Saturday afternoons, with fewer league games, fewer cup competitions and more midweek fixtures early on in the season all being mooted.

One such alternative of switching from the traditional winter season to a summer calendar has largely been met with stony silence, mainly due to the perceived tradition of football being a winter sport and the complex upheaval that would be required to alter it.

But with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic stopping sport as we know it firmly in its tracks, could this be the perfect time to make the switch?

What is the problem?

Anyone who has followed non-league football over the course of an entire season, especially in the last couple of years, will tell you that during the winter their primary concern is not whether their team is going to beat their opponents, but whether their team’s game is going to beat the weather.

Every weekend over the winter feels the same: Dry weather during the week, and then as the weekend closes in the rain comes down and there goes another round of fixtures.

Take the South West Peninsula League: 312 games were played across its two divisions between August and October 2019 – an average of 12 games per week per division for the first three months of the season, or 15.6 games per team in that time.

Compare that with the next four months of the campaign, November 2019 to February 2020, when just 168 games were played – an average of 4.5 games per week per division for four months, or 8.4 games per team in that time.

This meant that an average of just 240 of 380 league matches were played in each of the two divisions by the end of February – less than two months before the FA’s scheduled end-of-season deadline of April 25.

That led to SWPL secretary Phil Hiscox having to place the remaining 140 fixtures per division inside a seven-week period – consider that only 22 more games had been managed in the 18 weeks of November to February – while factoring in the closing stages of several cup competitions.

It meant that teams like Saltash United and Falmouth Town, who were still in two cups each, had around 18 matches to fulfil in less than two months, while the likes of Porthleven, whose Gala Parc pitch was one of the worst-affected by the weather, were due to play seven home games in 28 days.

Neither of those scenarios ended up happening due to the coronavirus pandemic and the enforced suspension of all sport, but had Covid-19 not intervened then right now there would be several Ashes and Town players recovering from having played around 1,500 minutes of football over the last seven weeks.

What would a summer switch do?

A switch to a summer season would involve swapping the traditional August-May schedule for a February-October plan. This would see the season bypass the wet winter months of November, December and January and begin the campaign in the middle of February.

This would likely see the number of weather-related postponements drops to almost nil, although there would probably still be a few in the first and last few weeks.

But otherwise the fixture schedule would progress through the season largely unscathed, and supporters can stand on the terraces in the balmy summer sunshine rather than freezing to death on a cold, wet December afternoon.

Falmouth Packet:

How a summer season fixture list could look for South West Peninsula League clubs

What about cricket?

There are many footballers who opt to play cricket in the summer months when football is usually having a break, but this scheduling shift would obviously see both sports run in parallel.

But one simple way around this would be to schedule more midweek matches, then those who play cricket can do so on Saturdays and still play football on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

Midweek matches can be an issue among the lower echelons of the non-league pyramid where several teams may not have lights, but this would be eased slightly in the lighter, summer months when play can go on for longer in natural light.

If midweek evening slots are unavailable, then Friday nights or Sundays are also an option.

What about cups?

Cup competitions would largely run as they do now, but the current schedule does at least allow for end-of-season cup finals to take place in the lovely April and May sunshine.

This would be lost under the new plan, but cup campaigns can simply be staggered to finish earlier in the season when the sun is shining.

Take Cornwall for example: Step six clubs have the Walter C Parson League Cup, Cornwall Senior Cup and Cornwall Charity Cup to play for over the season, all due to finish around a similar time in April/May.

Instead, the Senior Cup and Charity Cup could begin in March and April respectively, with one round per month allowing the competitions to conclude in August. The Senior Cup Final could seamlessly move from its Easter Monday slot to the August Bank Holiday.

Meanwhile, the League Cup could begin in May and conclude in early September, just before the summer sun disappears.

What about Christmas fixtures?

Yes, one big thing about the winter calendar is the traditional Christmas fixtures, with the Boxing Day derby games usually among the most eagerly anticipated.

But only six out of ten scheduled derby games actually took place in the SWPL Premier West in 2019, and it rained from start to finish.

But the Boxing Day fixtures could be comfortably accommodated in the August Bank Holiday weekend and take place in glorious sunshine, which would further swell those derby attendances.

The Good Friday games would remain as they are, but the moving of the Senior Cup Final to August would allow for another set of local Bank Holiday derbies on Easter Monday.

How could the switch happen?

Given that the new season is not guaranteed to begin in its usual August slot, owing to the current situation, then this would be the perfect time to make the switch.

With social distancing measures likely to remain in place in some form until at least the end of 2020, why not use the latter months of the year for some kind of one-off cup competition to shake off the cobwebs of the last few months, and then begin the new campaign in February?

Could this actually happen?

Well, that’s probably the biggest stumbling block.

You could probably convince most of non-league football that this would be a good option, given the weekly irritation of another postponed fixture.

But this would probably need to be implemented at all levels to work properly. That would include the professional game, where wet weather causes nothing like the problem it does in non-league.

Yes, fans and players would probably appreciate watching and playing in warmer temperatures, but it’s not going to be their decision.

Ultimately, they would then be out of sync with the rest of Europe’s major leagues – and crucially the European competitions calendar. If they all switched to a February-October calendar then it would be problem solved, but it is hard to envisage a complete shift in the schedule of the continent’s most popular sport off the back of the rain affecting English step six football.

It could be done without the rest of the country and continent falling into line, but the issue would be where one schedule meets the other, most likely those being promoted from non-league into the English Football League and those coming the other way.

The way past that would be for non-league to separate from the professional levels entirely, which is about as likely as a SWPL side managing to play more than three games in December.

This is probably why this plan will never see the light of day, but if there ever was the desire and scope to change things up, then now is certainly the time to do it.