The transfer window had created huge problems. St Georges’ had approached 14 players, of which 10 had moved to the Staffordshire club. The other four had chosen to stay at their clubs but St George’s playing squad now had thirty-seven players and, according to Lineker’s ‘rules’, this was too many.
Not all of the thirty-seven players needed to be registered. Thanks to the ‘Loyalty in Football Scheme’ new signings Mason Mount, from Essex Utd; Trent Alexander-Arnold, from Liverpool; Jack Grealish, briefly a West Ham asset and Phil Foden, briefly at Southampton all qualify to play. Players who were youthful back in 2020 now create a solid backbone to the third-tier team. All four players had managed to keep fit during the seven-season recess, and now obviously were to feature in the team dubbed ‘England Expects’ by jealous opposition.
Nothing in this new era seemed to shock anyone anymore and what happened next didn’t raise eyebrows. Even the fact it came via Twitter was no longer surprising.
“The FA have decided to revoke the squad limits, as it is considered to be against human rights to restrict employment.”
Fifty-nine teams had complied with the squad size rules, in fact, even including Loyalty in Football-qualifying players. No team had more than twenty-eight players. Wales South, Bristol, MK Dons and Crewe even included their managers as player/coach roles, taking their squad sizes to that total.
Bradford, Bolton and Bury all had squads of less than twenty; the rule change certainly seemed to be designed to benefit just one team. When deadline day arrived Jim White was quite bored on ‘Deadline Day Live’ as aside from St Georges Park and their ten new faces, the entire league saw just nine further transfers, six of whom were goalkeepers, swapping from teams with three to teams with just one. The most notable story was that of David Dafyn, moving from North Wales to South Wales because his partner took a new job at Cardiff Hospital.
A hastily thrown together Cup competition was announced, partly to draw attention from the controversial transfer window and partly because the new governing body had forgotten about the cups. All sixty teams entered the pot, along with four additional teams. Perhaps an admittance of guilt, perhaps just coincidence, but one of those positions was to be given to AFC Man-Citizens. The team denied a league space had carried on building a club, convinced an opportunity would arise. Kevin Horlock, the ex-City player who had made a fortune selling hand sanitizer back in 2020, was bankrolling the project. With former once-capped England international Richard Wright at the helm and Wright’s son Harry in goal, Citizens had been playing friendlies, charity games and running training camps since being denied their league spot.
The three other team spaces were offered to the Birmingham No-Go Zone, Lincolnshire, and perhaps surprisingly, Glasgow, with Scotland having yet to re-establish any sporting leagues since the Virus.
The failure to schedule cup ties meant that all cup games would be midweek. This angered many teams when the draw pitted some of the most remote teams against each other, Cornwall County drawn away to Glasgow Non-Religious Social Club, on the second Wednesday in February was considered absurd.
And when cup week arrived, so did the snow! Ian Holloway decided to forfeit the tie, rather than make the epic journey, his decision made easier due to Sky Sports placing the return derby against Plymouth on the Sunday previous, and the Exeter clash on the early Saturday kick-off. In a heated interview, Holloway pulled no punches when Dan Walker quizzed him on his “disrespecting the competition” The Bristolian criticising just about everyone he could name, whilst muttering something about breweries, party planning, gerbils and nights out ending with kebabs.
By the end of February, the average fan was losing patience with football. Southampton had pulled away in the Phoenix League, but not one team had fulfilled all their fixtures, most teams having been handed ridiculous logistical problems, and every team still had at least thirteen fixtures to fit into March and April, plus cup games if they had managed to win their first, and second-round games.
The next big topic to be shambolically covered would be relegation and promotion, nothing had been agreed, and fans were beginning to ask questions. Again, eyes were firmly fixed on Twitter.