Want to cut down on travelling, wages and save time? Then introduce county leagues and watch the importance of the FA Cup, FA Trophy and FA Vase rise and the standard of the average non-league game gradually go up. Madness? Not really. What does it matter if the team you are playing is from Devon, Shropshire, Warwickshire or indeed, Hertfordshire? Very few non-league players are known outside their own locality and teams are much of a muchness wherever you are. Moreover, outside of Step 1, non-league travelling fans hardly represent multitudes of supporters rampaging their way to the game, swelling the gates. It’s about a name, no more than that. Names like Bashley, Barwell, Leiston and Whitehawk scarcely roll off the tongue and make it salivate with expectation. In short, most people don’t know where these places are.
It’s time for proper alignment and removal of silos. That would mean collapsing the current Conference North & South, Isthmian, Southern, Northern Premier leagues and introducing four leagues at level two, finding a better geographical split, and a better solution for the far north and the west.
Step 1 – Conference
Step 2 – Regional Leagues North, London & South East, Midlands & East, South & West (24 teams apiece) – five down from each.
Step 3 – County Leagues (16-20 teams) – Some counties merging to form combined leagues (e.g. Beds and Herts). Champions promoted.
Step 4 – County Feeders
Taking Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire as an example, this could result in a 20-team league comprising the following: AFC Dunstable; Ampthill Town; Arlesey Town; Barton Rovers; Bedford Town; Berkhamsted; Biggleswade Town; Dunstable Town; Hertford Town; Hitchin Town; London Colney; Oxhey Jets; Potters Bar; Royston Town; St.Albans City; St.Ives Town; St. Margaretsbury; Stotfold; Tring Athletic; Ware
The benefits: Less travelling, bigger pool of players to access, more local derbies. Less time spent at service stations, better energy conservation. The FA competitions will deliver the unusual opposition, those not normally found on the fixture list. The intrigue will return.
The downside: Familiarity breeds contempt. Less “surprise” opposition. Initially, quality may suffer.
For those that find this unpalatable and “pie in the sky”, consider this: Bideford v Cambridge City on a Tuesday night in March. 270 miles each way for Cambridge. Attendance 106. Does that make sense? If that match was a balance sheet, how red would that look?