NO teams will be promoted or relegated in NPL and state league soccer competitions after Football Victoria was forced to end its season due to Melbourne's ongoing lockdown.
It means mixed news for Ballarat's clubs with Ballarat City avoiding relegation from NPL3, but the Sebastopol Vikings missing out on a chance to be promoted to State League 2.
Overall, the decision will be seen as win for the city's football fraternity, with the importance of Ballarat continuing to field an NPL team allowing for ongoing pathways between clubs, allowing emerging players to have the best opportunity to continue to progress their careers in this city.
it will also give Ballarat City FC an extra 12 months to bed down its long term strategic plan which it launched in August, with the knowledge it will remain in the NPL going forward.
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For the Sebastopol Vikings, it was a decision that was expected, but left coach Corey Smith feeling "numb".
"It was inevitable the season was going to be cancelled," he said.
"The disappointment was when lockdowns first came, we knew it wasn't going ahead.
"The first one only lasted a couple of weeks, but the underlying feeling on the second lockdown was the season was over. There's no way with this big a break you could restart again."
Smith said he had no doubt his team was poised for promotion to State League 2 given its opponents it still had to play.
"There's a big difference of opinion from some of the Melbourne-based clubs, but for me there was no way they could have included promotion or relegation in the end," he said. "I thought 100 per cent we'd get promoted, without a doubt, but I wouldn't want to be promoted without earning it."
He said he felt for clubs that had spent up big this season after the cancellations of 2020, that may now find themselves losing players, whereas the Vikings did not pay players, so he felt it wouldn't push them back.
"It doesn't really affect our club in what we're trying to build," he said. "Sometimes what you're trying to do as a club is lost by what league you're in."
"We've progressed every season because we don't (pay played)," Smith said.
"The fact we should have been promoted to me is great progress."
Football Victoria president Antonella Care and Football Victoria chief executive officer Kimon Taliadoros, in a joint statement, said they had been left with no choice but to end the seasons given there was no guaranteed timeframe for a safe return to football.
"We know this news is disappointing, particularly following last year's abandoned season," their statement said.
"Winter sport has borne the brunt of lockdowns and in turn, the impact on our football community has been immense.
"Our clubs, associations, officials, administrators, volunteers and players have bravely weathered the storm, rallying through each round of restrictions, showing a resilience that we know will keep our community strong through yet another challenge.
"While we may not have made it to the final whistle right across the state, your efforts have provided thousands with the opportunity to live and love football."
Despite the cancellations, Football Victoria has left the door open for the Ballarat and District Soccer Association, and other country-based competitions, to return if the state government lifts the lockdown in regional Victoria in time.
The BDSA hopes to push on with its finals series, but that will be determined by what the state government decides this week.
Smith said the biggest inconvenience of the lockdown, which will be felt across all clubs, not just the Vikings, was its impact on junior players. "Probably the program affected most is our under 18s going into State League," he said.
"This happened when Melbourne was locked down, but kids could still play locally.
"We put our kids into State League for a higher level of competition and what happened after first lockdown, they didn't play any more games as Melbourne teams we were scheduled to play after the first lockdown had to forfeit as they couldn't field teams.
"So in all, they hadn't played for nine weeks. As a program we've worked very hard and some of the players had gone onto play senior team.
"But what's happened has completely crippled that team and it hurts development.
"The safe option for anyone in that situation is to play local league, so going forward that can impact recruitment. Underage players will have to weigh up what's best for them.
"I always hope that everyone aspires to play at the highest level. Before this, I couldn't picture a life without sport, but after COVID if I was in that situation, I definitely could."