Last weekend, Hitchin Town of the Calor Gas Southern League Premier travelled almost 500 miles to play in front of 234 people. This was regionalised football gone mad. Aside from the fact that the dozen supporters who made the trip may have had a good day out and experienced the buzz of “we wuz there” (and hats off to them!), how relevant was that fixture in the scheme of things?
It’s time to bring the West of England more into the planning of non-league structures. There’s clearly something wrong when teams from the rest of the league dislike teams such as Truro City and dread the prospect of them being placed in their league because of the excessive travelling.
It’s also not fair on clubs like Truro, Tiverton and Bideford. Everyone always explains it away by saying, “oh well, they are in the west”. There are many clubs in the West of England, so why not deliver a format that actually better caters for all corners of the country? It’s not easy, but it can be done.
Step 3 has to comprise five (not four, not three) major leagues. In order to feed the step above, this is the proposal:
Five x 20-club leagues: Northern League; Southern Counties League; London & Eastern Counties; Midlands Combination; and West of England League.
The champions of all five leagues would gain promotion automatically. The next four of each league could enter a play-off qualifying competition from which a team from each league would emerge. In other words, a second team from each to be promoted. From the step above, five teams from Conference North and South would be relegated (these are 24-team leagues, after all). This would mean 25% of all clubs at that step would be involved in promotion issues.
20-team leagues would be more practical. It would limit midweek games and cut down on travelling. More games doesn’t necessarily translate into more net revenue.
The leagues would be run by the Football Association, thereby eliminating the “clubby” element that has developed over the years. It can be done – if people want it to be achieved.
As a taster:
West of England League:
Bideford, Poole, Weymouth, Truro, Chippenham, Frome, Totton, Bashley, ,Merthyr, Cirencester, Tiverton, Yate, Mangotsfield, North Leigh, Swindon Supermarine, Wimbourne, Taunton, Bridgwater, Shortwood, Cinderford.
And the London & Eastern Counties:
Kings Lynn, Hornchurch, Lowestoft, Bury, Canvey, Billericay, Leiston, Grays, East Thurrock, Wealdstone, Hendon, Harrow, Wingate, Enfield, Hemel, Cambridge City, St.Albans, Arlesey, Hitchin, Bedford.
Rushall, Barwell, Grantham, Stamford, Stafford, Ilkeston, Stourbridge, Corby, Redditch, St.Neots, Banbury, Biggleswade, Halesowen, Leek Town, Sutton Coldfield, Coalville, Belper, Worksop, Dunstable, Rugby.
Kingstonian, Dulwich, Maidstone, Bognor, Lewes, Margate, Hampton, Met.Police, Thamesmead, Carshalton. Cray, Hungerford, Burnham, Walton, Leatherhead, Hastings, Folkestone, Peacehaven, Chesham, VCD.
Chorley, Skelmersdale, Fylde, FC United, Blyth, Buxton, Marine, Whitby, Ashton, Matlock, Nantwich, Trafford, Frickley, Witton, Stocksbridge, Droylesden, Bamber Bridge, Warrington, Curzon Ashton, Darlington.
I would add that this is just one way this could look – and there are other clubs that could be inserted into this structure. Furthermore, it’s a rough guide – there will be clubs that will have longer to travel than others and there will be anomalies. But surely it shows that the west does not have to be the “no-go” area of non-league football? It’s worth thinking about…