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The NLP says… Grading is unfair to the smaller clubs

By Alex Narey

This is a busy time for football clubs, especially those with aspirations to climb up through the leagues because the suits from the Football Association are getting the clipboards at the ready.

Oh yes, be on your guard, those pesky ground graders will be coming to see you over the next couple of months. Big question is, will they be ticking the right boxes for your club?

Last season, The NLP was as shocked as anyone to learn the fates of Darlington, Poole Town and Hungerford Town – who all saw their promotion dreams from National League North and South go up in smoke after failing their respective grading due to not having the required 500 covered seats across two stands.

It was a harsh call but a lesson for clubs to understand that there can be no leniency when the rules and requirements have been clearly laid out in front of them.

But the requirements of the respective leagues have always been demanding; an extra turnstile here, an extra stand there. Some argue too demanding, and there are many cases, particularly further down the pyramid at Steps 5 and 6, where these demands are unrealistic and quite simply, unfair.

Take the case of Worcester Park in Combined Counties Division One. The Skinners are cruising their league, but instead of looking ahead to a promotion party and life in the Premier Division, the ‘relegation’ trapdoor is opening because their ground does not meet the ‘new’ requirements of the division they are playing in.

This is silly! Why should a club have to fork out what, for them, is a huge amount of money to improve their ground when the demands don’t merit it (you can’t tell me hundreds more will be flocking through the turnstiles as they move from Step 6 to Step 5)?

Higher up the leagues, and using Poole, Hungerford and Darlington as a case in point, the margins are smaller for bigger gains, and I have less sympathy when the rulebook is ignored or not adhered to because we are talking about clubs with greater ambitions.

But the grading at the lower levels needs looking at. People, at times, seem to forget why we play this game. It’s supposed to be about enjoyment.

A change is for the better…

Attention all fans across the three Step 4 divisions! Next week the paper’s coverage of match reporting will be different from what you have become accustomed to.

We feel it needs a shake-up, allowing us to deliver more ‘exclusive’ content that will make this paper stronger going forward.

Every game will still be covered, but we want to make our coverage at this level more in-depth and I truly believe more clubs and their fans will see the benefit in the long run.


*This article originally featured in The @NonLeaguePaper, which is available every Sunday

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