Changing Places

In a week’s time, step three of the Non-League pyramid will be concluded with the final promotion places decided by the play-offs.  Unfortunately, the process of determining who will be playing where starts at this point as the respective leagues will enter into horse trading to ensure a fair and equitable split of teams.  This undoubtably will lead to winners and losers.  Unfortunately, the nature of the Non-League pyramid means that the words fair and equitable simply will not exist next season.  In the past few seasons “Southern” teams such as Gloucester City , Worcester City, Bishops Stortford and Histon have had to ensure travel misery as they were placed in the same league as Workington, Barrow and Harrogate Town meaning teams have to travel thousands of miles each season.  In the Ryman Premier League we have three three hundred mile plus away trips to Suffolk, hardly fun on a Saturday, let alone on a Tuesday night.

Rumours started surfacing a few weeks ago that the most westerly clubs in the Ryman Premier League may be asked (and by asked I mean in footballing terms which equates to an order with a complicated appeal process involving unicorns and dragons) to move across to the Southern Premier League. With Wealdstone powering their way to the Conference South, it has left Harrow Borough and their current tenants Hendon in a potentially sticky situation of not knowing whether they will be heading to the seaside of Margate or Poole next season, or wearing their Christmas jumpers against Hampton & Richmond Borough or Chesham United.  The 300 mile long return trips east to Lowestoft Town and Leiston would be replaced by near 600 mile jaunts to Truro City or 450 to Bideford FC.  Fun for all the family I’m sure.

photo 2 (28)Travel costs are a big part of any clubs budgets at this level, with coaches a pre-requisite for most away games with a match day squad of up to twenty five people when you factor in the management team.  Gone are the days of players hoping on public transport with their boots to games.  Today it is all about Travel Suits, Beats by Dr Dre and Snapchat.   Guernsey’ position potentially in our league next season, assuming they win through the Ryman South play offs, has raised a few interesting eyebrows as they currently fund trips to the island for away teams and their management team, although that has led to a few issues this season including away teams delayed by fog, air traffic control restrictions and on one occasion, an air rage incident. Continue reading

The Future of Non League Football – How far is too far?

Hardened non-league supporters and groundhoppers alike regularly clock up several hundred, maybe even a couple of thousand miles a season to watch games.  Jenni Silver explains how had it is for some clubs, and what could be done to alleviate the problem in our final view on what could be done to improve the non league game.

Despite regional groupings further down the pyramid there are always the anomaly teams, the ones which are out on a limb and a fair old coach journey away. For years this was Truro, the scourge of many Southern League sides who were forced to sit for five hours or more on a team bus all the way down the M5 and beyond.

The White Tigers themselves had a refreshingly decadent attitude to the distance, at one point chartering a plane to take them to a Step 4 fixture against Cirencester Town. They now sit happily in the Conference South, still traveling vast distances but not making too much fuss about it. The proposed changes to Step 5 looked set to double some club’s traveling at a level where wages and budgets may not stretch to a full coach, before they were shelved. Meanwhile up in Step 2, the Conference North and South in old money, the problem is fast approaching crisis point.

With the imaginary north/south divide wobbling and changing each year, moving ever closer to the M25, the debates on what is fair and how far a semi-professional team should travel are increasing each year.

It starts off around April, when regulations and promotions are finalised, with the weighting of promoted sides from Step 2 tipping in a southerly manner the imaginary line drops down, and the 22nd most northerly of the southern teams ends up in a new league, full of flat caps, strong accents and mysterious destinations like Vauxhall Motors and Colwyn Bay. Continue reading