With the season all but finished barring the odd cup final and play-off final, preparation will already be getting underway for next season. The many different non-league regions and committees now have the arduous task of fixture planning. With computer technology you might think this would be an easy job, but not necessarily. First of all there’s the regionalisation of teams, the most obvious being North/South with the Conference league. However another thing they have to take into consideration are the teams dropping out of leagues. Which teams get reprieves, what happens to the team who should get relegated or the team that finishes second in the league below?
This actually ties in with the news today of the FA planning a ‘B’ league for premiership teams. Read the BBC website here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/27289819 for further info.
I had a reader of NonLeagueReview ask if they could send me their thoughts on the restructure of the non-league system and if i would post it for them. However they would like total anonymity but would welcome your views on the idea.
Eastwood Town, Wakefield and Cammell Laird, another three teams that bite the dust in what is now becoming an annual affair.
In the last 5 years in the Northern Premier League there has been three clubs that have folded (Kings Lynn & Newcastle Blue Star in 2009/10 and Leigh Genesis 2010/11) and three clubs that have resigned (Glapwell in 2010/11 and Woodley Sports & Durham City in 2011/12), add Eastwood, Wakefield and Cammell Laird to that list and that is NINE clubs who have suffered in the last five years, NINE clubs! One alone is a tragedy, nine is a non-league epidemic that needs to be brought to a halt.
Not only are these clubs suffering themselves but it plays havoc with the competitiveness of the league as the season concludes. Relegation battles become alive one week and dead the next when reprieves are handed out left, right and centre. A team folds midway through the season and their records are expunged, a nightmare if you have gained 6 points from that team and your rivals have gained less. Not to mention the waste of time and money from the expunged games which will now go down in history as if it never happened.
Why is this becoming a frequent occurrence? For me there is only one reason – clubs overstretching themselves.
Take Eastwood and Newcastle Blue Star for example. Two clubs who throughout their history had average attendances for the level they have consistently played at. Along comes someone with a few pounds (but not as much as they think) and spends, spends, spends to try and get as high as they can. The problem being, the higher they get, everything costs more – better players, ground improvements, travel – and all of a sudden the maths do not work out as they realise the crowds haven’t gone from 120 to four figures despite the quick success.
With Wakefield, Cammell Laird and Woodley Sports, the situation is different but ultimately has the same outcome. Three clubs who have done well to be at the level they have, punching above their weight and after years of struggling despite “brand” changes to try and generate more interest to a wider area, admit defeat and resign to a level they can operate at.
Isn’t it about time Non-League went down the sensible route to safeguard all of these proud community clubs whilst at the same time making the game more attractive? The only way I can see this happening is if all the leagues were restructured to be regionalised and were a closed shop with no promotions or relegations.
The benefits for the structure above would be as follows:-
More local games – Next season will be the first time since 1997 that Curzon Ashton played their neighbours Ashton United in a league fixture. That is seventeen years a long time for two clubs in the same town to have not commenced battle especially when you can argue they are similarly sized clubs who struggle to attract crowds. You can have a look across all the five leagues and pick out countless attractive fixtures. For clubs in Tameside they will have five local derbies and that is before you count the likes of Radcliffe Borough, Salford City and Trafford. These games will generate interest and more importantly funds, we all see how much crowds improve at Christmas or Easter, imagine having these bumper games regularly throughout the season? Would Stalybridge Celtic fans rather play Leamington than Mossley? Would Blyth fans rather play Histon than Spennymoor? Harrogate Town play Oxford City than Scarborough? Surely playing a local fixture is better?
A lot of non-league folk criticise the North East teams for not applying for promotion to the NPL but can you blame them? Every away game would require a coach that would cost about £500 each trip, times that by 20 games and before the season starts you require £10,000 just to travel to games. I applaud them for not putting their clubs at risk and staying in a competitive league with healthy crowds.
You look round a typical non-league game each weekend and the crowd will be older. Who will replace these older fans when they pass? It used to be the next generation but a generation of potential fans have been lost to the TV. Prescot Cables used a great slogan to entice fans with the strapline “Don’t let your kids grow up thinking football is a TV programme” who can blame them choosing the superstars on TV than their local team playing an opposition side 100 miles away? At least by having a local fixture it will give clubs half a chance of enticing them away.
Reduced season – By cutting the league down to 18 teams you reduce the amount of games played by up to a quarter in some cases. In the NPL Premier Division this season for example there is 24 teams playing a 46 game season. In an 18 team league, 34 games will be played, 12 games less than the current hectic schedule that currently operates. This will result in less midweek games which are now only attended by the hardcore as they will always clash with games on TV.
On Tuesday 25th March, the Manchester Derby was on live on TV. That same night, promotion chasers Ramsbottom United (average 251) and Warrington Town (average 211) both had attendances of 101 as football fans decided that the biggest derby in England was more attractive in the warmth of their own homes than in a cold miserable non-league ground.
Not only will it help the crowds but the quality will improve. At this moment in time you are asking lads to work full time and then travel hundred of miles to play upto 60 games a season, this does not help the quality of the games or the quality of pitches.
More competitiveness – You only have to look at Hyde and Droylsden this season to wonder what the point of the season is all about. It took Hyde 29 games before they gained their first win during which time they become a figure of fun and patronised nationally. Whilst it may be exciting to host the likes of Luton Town, Cambridge United and Wrexham to your tiny ground for a league fixture, the novelty will soon wear off if you are fortunate enough to survive as Hyde did last season. Hyde fans without a season ticket are being asked to pay £14 to see their team get soundly beaten, they currently average 595 with their lowest attendance being 275. The fans paying the £14 are simply not getting any value for their money. The same can be said for Farsley and Droylsden who both experienced a year long stay in the national league, an experience which has had serious effects with Farsley folding and Droylsden being the second Tameside team this season to be a laughed at conceding 176 goals which include a 0-9, 0-10 and a league record 1-13 defeat.
North Ferriby United have been competing for promotion in the Conference North, if they were to achieve promotion could you really see them being competitive against no less than ¾ of the teams that train full time with four figure crowds? Like Hyde it might be exciting for a year or two but what happens when you hit a brick wall and reality sets in? Is it not better all round for them to be competitive year in year out? Their average attendance despite being in a title challenge all season is only 346. How can you sustain that against teams with 5x the crowds in the Conference National?
These are three reasons why I believe a regionalised closed shop league will make the non-league game healthier. The league cup could become a trophy that all clubs aim for and become a prestigious event for the league and sponsors without it being a distraction for teams fighting for promotion or survival. This weekend has just seen the Play-Offs and all of them like each year were incredibly exciting either watching it at the ground or following it on Twitter. You could add play offs similar to the Super League Rugby or the American Sports with the top 8 making the post season tournament to decide the overall winner in order to keep this excitement going.
Of course there are several cons to this idea, depending on your opinions. I have only looked at the logistics for five leagues and these will have an effect on the rest of the leagues in the country and there are some teams I have not chosen who would feel hard done by to not make the cut but I believe the pros far outweigh the cons. Some clubs I have left out such as Altrincham and FC United I believe belong in the football conference at a minimum level due to their history and potential to sustain that level of football.
Something needs to be done before it’s too late. Clubs are falling at an alarming rate and it is only going to get worse. I envisage a time in the next decade or so when the current rule about no games being broadcast between 3pm and 5pm on a Saturday will cease to exist and you will have the choice of 100’s of games to watch on line. We need to safeguard our game that we all love to ensure we are not joining them in picking a game as the other alternative of live and affordable football is no longer an option. Surely it’s better to give them an option of several local derbies to choose from in a competitive league?