Financial penalty on clubs following expansion of Western League’s Premier Division

When the FA implemented the National League System restructure in the summer of 2021, both the South West Peninsula League and the Western League were supportive, given the need to enable Cornish Clubs to become a proper part of the NLS with the promise of potential future promotion.

Monday 23rd May 2022 9:24 am
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However, the restructure has drastically expanded the size of the Western League’s Premier Division, imposing a severe financial penalty on some Clubs, with an average increase in travel distances of nearly 50% increase. Indeed, the challenges aren’t limited to traditional Western League footprint. Historically, Cornish teams that had previously joined the Western League Premier Division had withdrawn after several seasons due to the costs of travel, as well as Clubs refusing promotion to because of the projected travel costs.

Whilst immediately accepted by most member clubs, the current model is considered questionable over the longer term, prompting the South West Peninsula League and the Western League to establish a common goal to improve this situation.

Currently, the Western League operates one Step 5 division, comprising 19 clubs whose current footprint extends from the Northeast suburbs of Bristol to Mousehole in the far west of Cornwall. This entails round trips in excess of 400 miles, by way of comparison a trip from Bristol to Manchester is approximately 340 miles. At Step 6 there are currently three divisions. The South West Peninsula League comprises two divisions with a footprint covering Devon, currently 20 Clubs and Cornwall, currently 17 Clubs. The Western League First Division comprises 21 clubs with a footprint including South Gloucestershire, Somerset, Wiltshire and Dorset.

In proposing a merger, the prime objective of the South West Peninsula League and the Western League is to create a cost effective, sustainable and environmentally friendly structure for Step 5/6 football in the Southwest. Officials of both Leagues accept the principle that reasonable travel is an element of playing football at this level. However, there is increasing awareness of the environmental impact, as well as the financial cost, of travel.

The proposal will see the South West Peninsula League and the Western League combine into a new League structure, rationalising costs and administration procedures to operate two Step 5 and three Step 6 Divisions. Initially, this will involve 18 clubs per division, requiring a total of 90 clubs, with the aim of increasing to 20 clubs per division in the near future.

The two Step 5 leagues would create a new footprint with the North Division covering Bristol, Somerset, part of Devon and Dorset with the South Division covering Devon and Cornwall. A key determinant in establishing boundaries will be travel distances, an average of less than 160 miles per game should be a maximum for Step 5 clubs and less than 100 miles per game for Step 6 clubs, but some flexibility will be required as the league evolves over time.

To achieve this new structure requires the recruitment of a further 12 clubs. This would be achieved by way of promotion from Step 6, relegation from Step 4 and some degree of lateral movement in the North and East of the territory. The vacancies at Step 6 would be filled by way of promotion from feeder leagues across the Southwest together with relegation from Step 5. Whilst the geography of the Step 6 leagues remains broadly similar there is an opportunity to rationalise numbers to 18 in each league making 54 clubs in all, where there is currently 59.

Looking to the future, a few options exist to determine the means of promotion from the new Step 5 divisions into the Southern League. These might include end of season play offs prior to the NLS playoffs or an agreed rule change in line with the current NLS for the SWP Step 6 Divisions.

Officials of both leagues believe that this new structure will create a cost effective, sustainable, and a greener environment for step 5/6 football across this geographically diverse and extended region. It is hoped to have the new structure in place for the commencement of season 2023/24 following a season of transition during 2022/23.

This proposal is currently out to consultation with a variety of stakeholders, including; South West Peninsula League and Western League Clubs, County FA’s, Feeder Leagues and Sponsors. Their needs and concerns will be fully embraced as the project develops, but once the proposal is accepted in principle, more detailed work will commence on producing a detailed final proposal and business plan, presented to the Leagues Committee within the next 6 months.

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