THURROCK FC remain optimistic that they will avoid relegation to the Ryman One North despite a ruling today that penalises them three points for playing an illegible player.
Thurrock, together with Tilbury FC and Bishops Stortford, appeared before an FA hearing over the signing of Joel Barnett, who was the subject of a West Riding FA sine die ban at the time.
The events at Wembley were in two stages. Firstly the FA, represented by legal counsel, hosted a hearing that heard Barnett had been suspended because of a non payment of a fine levelled against now defunct Wakefield Sunday League side Wilton.
That meeting was unable to prove or disprove the validity of the suspension of Barnett. There is no doubt that Wilton were the subject of a West Riding action and those players registered with the club for the season in question were subject to a ban until they paid fines.
However, the argument of Tilbury and Thurrock is that Barnett was not registered with Wilton, though it is accepted that he had played for them at some point in the past.
At today’s hearing the Ryman clubs, knowing they have the right to an appeal, agreed to accept that if it was proved Barnett was legitimately suspended, they are guilty. However, their case is that the onus is on West Riding FA to prove their case, an argument apparently accepted by the FA.
After the FA hearing, Thurrock and Tilbury moved straight into another hearing in front of Ryman League officials. Given the outcome of the first hearing, Ryman rules left no leeway and both clubs were subjected to points deductions.
In the case of Tilbury, their deduction had no consequences for next season, but as Thurrock only avoided relegation by one point, the league’s automatic decision means that Thurrock will finish in the relegation zone, with Carshalton getting a reprieve.
However, Thurrock secretary Mark Southgate says today’s meetings are just a preliminary skirmish and the key meeting is an appeal by Thurrock against the league’s ruling, that will be heard by the FA next week.
“The FA came into the meeting with little or no evidence and were, quite frankly under prepared. I think their counsel was embarrassed by the lack of evidence. The onus is on them to prove the ineligibility of Joel Barnett.
His connection with Wilton is historic, not recent and the West Riding FA have so far been unable to prove that he was registered for the season when the fines were levied. If he is not registered, and as he was living and working in Essex we do not believe he was,” said Southgate.
“We agreed to accept the FA ruling on the understanding that on appeal, it was the FA’s case that has to be proved by the FA. The Ryman League have to go by their rules, which we understand, and if the West Riding FA can prove Barnett was registered then we will accept our fate, but we do not believe he was and therefore we remain optimistic that the FA appeal will find in our favour and the Ryman League will rescind their ruling.”