Last weekend was a busy one for the FA. Not only did we have the whole Lord Treason affair but in one of the backrooms at Wembley Stadium sat a man who decided the fate of literally hundreds of non-league clubs as he worked out the league allocations for the coming season.
Last season saw three high profile clubs go to the wall mid-season in Chester City, Farsley Celtic and Kings Lynn. Add to this a number of clubs who had breached league rules and some relegation/promotion enforced geographical anomalies and you can see what a difficult job was on the cards. So what was decided?
Blue Square Premier
Only three teams were relegated last year after Chester city withdrew mid-season so four teams have been promoted – namely Newport County and Bath City from Blue Square South, and Southport and Fleetwood from Blue Square North. Added to this are Darlington and Grimsby Town from Football League Two. For some reason York City are “to be determined” which sounds ominous although no one we spoke to at Wembley on Sunday could tell us why.
Blue Square South
So with two going up and the 3 W’s going down (Weymouth, Weston and Worcester) this one should have been relatively simple right? Er not quite. Ebbsfleet United and Forest Green Rovers have joined from the Premier, setting up the mouth watering prospect of the return of the Dartford v Ebbsfleet derby and the former were promoted as champions from the Rymans League. Joining them, still in my book controversially, is Boreham Wood who seem to have been forgiven for the behaviour of their fans in the Play Off final versus Kingstonians. Also coming up are Farnborough Town as Zamaretto League Champions.
Blue Square North
So this is where the fun starts. Firstly the league welcomes Unibond promotees Guiseley and Boston United, but to even up the numbers again Vauxhall Motors and Harrogate Town who were the two relegated teams last season have earnt a reprieve. Added to this Worcester City, who were in theory relegated from the Blue Square South have been moved to this league. Oh how I am sure they will relish the trips to the likes of Workington and Blyth Spartans. Nuneaton Town also join the league after winning the Zamaretto League Play Off. Leaving the league is Northwich Victoria who despite a mid table finish last term have been told they are not welcome in the league.
Rymans (Isthmian) Premier
A couple of changes from the normal here. Bury Town switch from the Zamaretto League and Margate earn a reprieve from relegation to be joined by promotees Lowestofty, Concord Rangers, Croydon Athletic and Folkestone Invicta. What this does mean is than no teams join the league from the Blue Square South.
Zamaretto (Southern) League
So apart from Bury Town’s switch to the Ryman’s league, Tiverton Town get a reprieve from relegation and are joined by Weymouth and Weston-Super-Mare from the Blue Square South as well as promotees Chesham Town, Cirencester Town and Windsor & Eaton who probably had their eye on a spot in the Rymans.
Evostick (Northern) Premier
New sponsor, same old league as Northwich join the party along with resurgent FC Halifax Town, Colwyn Bay, FA specialists Chasetown and Mickleover Sports. Ossett Town earn a reprieve to balance the numbers up.
I could go down one step further but for the sake of brevity I will keep it at steps 1-3. However, there are two notable items just below this.
Firstly, VCD Athletic, the club borne out of the Vickers ammunition works in Crayford, Kent have been thrown out of the Ryman’s League, pending appeal, due to not having the required ground grading in time. We visited their lovely little ground last year and for the level of football they play could not fault it at all. Lets hope sense prevails and they get their place back – after all last season they were only a few points off the play off spots in their first season at that level.
Secondly, and more newsworthy is the fact that one name is glaringly missing – Grays Athletic. Obviously relegated last season from the Blue Square Premier and homeless after their Recreation Ground was sold from under their feet, they had planned on entering the Ryman’s league with a ground share at East Thurrock United. But that does not seem to have satisfied the FA who have simply not included them anywhere. Any changes now would require some drastic re-organisations so it must be assumed that they will be starting in Step 5 in the Essex Senior Leagues – quite a come down for a side who had so much non-league success only a handful of seasons ago. It will remain to be seen whether the high profile ex-West Ham management team of John Moncur, Julian Dicks and Kenny Brown will remain at the club. We did try and contact someone at the club, and at the Ryman’s league but nobody answered the phone to comment.
Obviously the FA are free to change this at their whim without any explanation but for now it seems that all clubs entering the season are doing so on a stable financial footing. We shall see.
The next step is the publication of the fixtures in July which will be eagerly awaited by many – Ebbsfleet United v Dartford and Gloucester City v Worcester City are two derbies thrown up by the new structure and will be ones TBIR will be reporting from next season. We can’t wait!