The Future of Non League Football – The Inequalities of the leagues

In the first week of May the play off semi-finals took place across most non leagues. However, whilst the fans at Dulwich Hamlet, Bognor Regis Town and Lowestoft Town stood enthralled at the tense ending to their games, the semi-finals at Sutton United and Basingtstoke Town were less so. In all instances the games were settled by one goal or in the case of Bognor, on penalties. But in the case of the Blue Square Bet South games it was simply half time. Welling United and Dartford took their one goal away wins into their home legs the following week. Unfortunately, for Wealdstone, Folkstone Invicta and Godalming, their seasons were over.

And therein lies the problem. After 42 league games stretching eight months most teams existed the play offs after a one off “Cup Final”. So why does the Blue Square league structure have two legged semi-finals (just like the nPower Football Leagues) whilst every league below that has to make do with a 90 minute (plus extra time and penalties) scrap? Is that fair? We think not.

The leagues will wheel out the same old story about needing to finish the season as early as possible to get ready for the next season, but what difference would one more game make? The Blue Square North and South play off finals do not take place until mid-May, so why not play ALL play off finals on one weekend. By the time the two teams who will be entering the Blue Square Bet Premier are decided, the feeder leagues will be done and dusted and the players will be on their way to the beach (well, Skegness then).

How difficult would it be to have one additional game for the teams in the playoffs? Who would be the loser in that? The four clubs involved would see additional gate receipts, which based on the attendances for the one off semi-finals would be substantial. Football betting fans also get more to play with. For instance if you look at the six games played at Step 3 of the Non League Pyramid:-

AFC Hornchurch (average 310) v Bury Town (average 420)
Lowestoft Town (average 668) v Wealdstone (average 502)

Bradford PA (average 408) v Hednesford Town (average 638)
Chorley (average 957) v FC United of Manchester (average 1,948)

Oxford City (average 241) v Cambridge City (average 348)
AFC Totton (average 438) v Chesham United (average 349)

For each of the play off games the attendances were higher simply because of the status of the game. AFC Hornchurch saw 646 for their game, Lowestoft Town 1,146 for theirs. So if you take a conservative multiple of 30% on top of the normal home attendances, an additional game would have resulted in crowds such as:-

Bury Town – 546
Wealdstone – 652
Hednesford Town – 829
FC United of Manchester – 2,532
Cambridge City – 452
Chesham United – 453

A total of 5,464 extra fans, who would have paid a minimum of £9 for the privilage. And I would imagine based on previous crowds for big games, the figures for Bury Town (Highest attendance of season 868), Wealdstone (876) and FC United of Manchester (3,142) are grossly underestimated.

Based on the fact that all leagues were completed by the 28th April, surely there could have been time to fit in two play off semi-finals in these leagues, with the Final being played on the weekend of the 12/13th May – the same one as the Blue Square North and South. Revolutionary idea or just fair?

Some traditionalists will argue that the play offs are not a fair way of settling the end of season promotion places but this year we have seen a play off final featuring the 2nd v 3rd place team in three of the five leagues from step two and three (with the 2nd place team so far winning in two games).

So in light of all of our changes this one is a win/win for everyone is it not? It adds an extra element of competitiveness into the final shake up for places, it gives the clubs involved significant extra revenues and it keeps supporters interest up for a few days more before the barren summer months.

Supporters can also keep up their interest out of season playing ‘Shoot!’ and ‘Soccer Safari’ over at for their chance to win big when there is little football to watch.So grab your rattle and a scarf, cram into the stands and cheer your way to profits with these great games. There can be no substitute.


  1. The only teams that complain about a one off game are those it affects because they lost.

    It’s the same in the conference last season. Wrexham finish ahead of the team in 3rd, they don’t go up, because they lose in the play offs, then start moaning there should be a third promotion spot. Of course once in league football, Wrexham most certainly would not want an extra relegation place to appear and neither would any team in league 2. Luton could have argued that they won 2-0 in the first leg, why should they have to go away to hold onto that lead.

    Ultimately, you answer you own question at the start of your editorial. ” what difference would one more game make?” At the lower level, player insurance, council regulations, people availability are an issue. Also having to pay players for an extra week. What if the first game one side won 4-1, some won’t attend the second because it is a foregone conclusion.

    The higher you go, the more professional things become. Things at the lower level are different for a reason. My team Crawley have just had to spend a reputed 600k on a new stand to upgrade facilities. AFC Wimbledon have had to do the same.

    Should teams like Lowestoft Town and Chesham United have to radically upgrade their stadiums, introduce online ticketing, have literally small armies of stewards, club doctors, video every game for the FA etc etc. Things are done for a reason. Playing an extra play off game is not simply a case of having an extra game. Some clubs are simply not equipped to deal with it.

  2. Surely if you want two legs for the semi you should have two legs for the final?
    League is league, cup is cup, play offs fit into the latter and should all be one off games.

    1. 2 legged semi’s occur all the way down from Championship to the Blue Square North/South – I don’t see why the next step down shouldn’t also have them

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