Marlow FC, the team who were set to play Reading Under 23s in the final of the Berks & Bucks Cup next month, have been disqualified from the competition.
A statement from the Berks & Bucks FA confirmed that the Bostik League South Central side had been found to be in breach of player eligibility rules, and will be replaced in the final by the team they beat in the semi-final, Slough Town.
The rules state that players are not allowed to play for more than one club in the same season in any of the FA County Cup competitions. Marlow broke this rule by fielding Marcus Mealing and Adam Richards against Slough, with the duo having already played for Walton Casuals in the Surrey Senior Cup and Harrow Borough in the London Cup respectively previously in 2018/19.
However, this is where it gets a little bit messy. Reading also appear to have broken the same rule, as Ramarni Medford-Smith played in the semi-final victory over Maidenhead United despite having already played on loan for Wealdstone in the Middlesex Cup earlier this season.
But that’s not all. Marlow manager Mark Bartley has alleged that the Royals, along with Slough, have broken another eligibility rule. Writing on Twitter, Bartley cites the rule that clubs cannot field players in the competition who are contracted to an EFL club, showing how Slough included Mathew Stevens, on loan from Peterborough United, in their line-up to face Chalfont St Peter in the second round. Indeed, Stevens scored a hat-trick as the National League South side won 6-3. Reading of course would also have broken this rule, having fielded the likes of Tom McIntyre, Tom Holmes, Josh Barrett and Ben House in the competition this season, despite these youngsters having senior contracts with an EFL club (Reading, obvs). Bartley is understandably frustrated by the lack of consistency from the Berks & Bucks FA and has confirmed that the club will appeal the decision to remove Marlow from the competition.
However, it’s worth noting the rule on having no EFL contracted players in your team isn’t particularly clear. Slough’s Stevens may be contracted to Peterborough, but surely he would have obtained a loan contract to play for the Berkshire side? Meanwhile, it would be very difficult for Reading not to include any players with EFL contracts because of the obvious fact that they are an EFL club. This is of course the first time since 2000 that we’ve been involved in the Berks & Bucks Cup, but MK Dons (who Bartley also accuses of breaking the rules) have featured in the last few seasons and no issue has been raised.
Regardless, Reading have almost certainly committed the same offence that Marlow have been disqualified for, and it’s sure to be an interesting few weeks ahead of the final, which is due to be held at Slough’s Arbour Park on Monday 6th May at 3pm.