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Har Har

Restructuring Non-League Football
by Hardy on 15/08/2003

The long awaited re-structure of the game below the Football League was finally settled during the summer with the Football Conference expanding to 66 clubs as of the start of next season.

Restructuring Non-League Football
The long awaited re-structure of the game below the Football League was finally settled during the summer with the Football Conference expanding to 66 clubs as of the start of next season, consisting of the current Conference plus a Northern and Southern Division below it each of 22 clubs.

Here's how it will be done.

Conference North and South
There will be three down out of this season's Conference and the three feeder champions will be promoted as normal. The three down and the clubs finishing in positions 2 to 13 in the current feeders will be included in the new Conference divisions divided regionally north and south.. This totals 39 clubs straight into the Conference by right.

The remaining 5 places will be decided using a convoluted play off system involving the champions of the divisions below feeder Premier level and the remaining feeder Premier teams down to as low as 20th place (except the Southern League which only goes to 18th) which will result in 2 additional teams selected from the Isthmian and Southern leagues and one from the Northern Premier.

Details of how the playoff will work can be found here. Hopefully, given the number of games, this play off may be decided by about mid July or so.

The future of the Feeders

It has always been an issue that their are three feeder leagues into the Conference, and this will remain a problem going forward. With two Conference Divisions each relegating three clubs each the new, much weaker Isthmian, Southern and Northern Premier Leagues these will now get their Champions promoted by right, plus a second club from each decided by an end of season play off.

At the next level down it is intended to have single First divisions for the Isthmian and Northern Premier leagues and two regional divisions for the Southern League and below that a series of regional leagues perhaps up to 12 in total to form a broad base to the Pyramid with the County leagues below this.

A graphical view of this structure can be found here.

Better or Worse?

Well definitely different. Tony Kempster, whose excellent Non-League site I have linked to for additional information in this article has made an attempt to guess who would be where based on the positions in 2002/03 here.

It seems a little strange with the three divisions of the Football League all being 24 clubs that the re-structure has stuck to 22 clubs per division. Maybe this is to allow room for Stevenage to suggest that we expand the Conference if they look like going down again in the future.

Given the new structure it looks like the current feeders could lose their individual identities and a lot of clubs get shifted around on a geographical basis. This is a lot of history to lose but will finally do away with the distinctions between the ex-professional Southern and Northern Premier leagues and the old amateur Isthmian League.

It does seem strange to persist then with three feeders at the level below the Conference, thus retaining a three into two split but to have done differently would have meant the total demise of one league, probably the Isthmian. This was always the contentious problem that needed to be addressed by a restructure and seems to have been skirted in the proposed solution.

I would guess a whole heap of horse trading has gone on to get this far though. The structure looks better all round and certainly provides a clear line of promotion and relegation between the top and bottom of the game of football in England.

Now watch Rangers and Celtic come in and screw it all up I guess.


 

 

 

 

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