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EXCLUSIVE: The FA reject bid for new Northern League Step 4 division

By Mark Carruthers

The Ebac Northern League have described themselves as “bitterly disappointed” at the FA’s decision to reject their proposal to introduce a new Step 4 league within the region.

In a statement released earlier this week, the Northern League confirmed that the proposal was submitted to the Football Association that would allow the Northern League “to adjust its position within the system to include a Step 4 division covering the region”.

The Northern League would have controlled the new division, which would have sat along side the likes of the Evo-Stik North and Evo-Stik South at Step 4.

The new division would feed into the Evo-Stik Premier Division and would allow Northern League clubs to make a gradual progression into the third tier of the Non-League pyramid.

There has been widespread criticism of the Northern League clubs in recent years for a perceived lack of ambition, with only Darlington, Spennymoor Town and South Shields accepting promotion to Step 4 over the past nine seasons.

That period has coincided with the Northern League’s dominance of the FA Vase, with the league providing nine of the last ten winners of the competition.

Only Sholing, from the Wessex League, managed to break the stronghold when they bea another Northern League side, West Auckland, in the 2014 final at Wembley.

There has also been criticism from outside of the North-East that clubs from the Northern League are happy to pay more for players, but aren’t willing to absorb increased travel costs that come with a promotion into Step 4.

An FA Leagues Committee meeting took place on Wednesday and it was announced on Friday that the proposal had been rejected, with the FA deciding that they could not make another alteration to the National League System structure pending a review of the additional Step 3 and 4 divisions which will be run by the Isthmian and Southern Leagues from the start of the 2018-19 season.

Disappointed

The FA say the shake-up is designed to help clubs across the country with costs and travel times. In all, it will mean four divisions at Step 3 and seven at Step 4.

In a communication sent to member clubs, the Northern League’s secretary Kevin Hewitt said: “Having expended a lot of time and effort recently, with the help of colleagues on the League Management Committee, to produce an effective structure that would address such problems and also give the opportunity for our league to become fully integrated within the Non-League System, with both promotion and relegation I find myself bitterly disappointed with the FA’s response.

“It’s disappointing for this league and its clubs that there appears to be little or no desire on behalf of the FA’s Leagues Committee to address those very same issues for our region, with increased costs and excessive travel remaining the order of the day.”

It now seems that this season’s Northern League champions will be promoted to the Evo-Stik North, with promotion enforced by the Football Association across the board as they look to shuffle the numbers to fit the new structure.

Current leaders Morpeth Town, who won the Vase in 2015, sit 15 points clear of second-placed Marske United and are clear favourites to secure the club’s first ever Northern League title.

However, joint-manager Nicky Gray believes that the club should not be forced to move to Step 4.

Bemusing

He said “We are 46 miles south of the Scottish border and the Northern League is strong because of where it is in the country.

“People have told me we have to take automatic promotion, that has just been put on us this season.

“I don’t think they can say at the start of the season that it is going to be compulsory.

“I find it bemusing, clubs are run by volunteers and you are asking them and your players to give a massive commitment.

“There are clubs in our league that want to go up and feel they are ready to go up, so let them go up.”

 

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

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