By Alex Narey
AN extension to the play-offs from four teams to six will make next season’s National League more competitive than ever.
That was the view of Michael Tattersall, the league’s chief executive, after plans to open up the promotion race to the top seven were passed at Saturday’s AGM at Celtic Manor in South Wales.
Needing 75 per cent of clubs to vote in favour to get the ‘special resolution’ through, Tattersall claimed there was overwhelming support for the move, adding: “With more clubs having the opportunity to reach the play-offs, we will have a better season. It’s that simple.”
The new format will involve clubs effectively playing over three rounds. While the second and third-placed teams will gain an automatic bye to the semi-finals, clubs finishing in fourth to seventh will then play each other in single-leg qualifiers (fourth plays seventh; fifth plays sixth) at the home of the club that finished higher in the league.
The winners will then progress to the semis. Again, one-leg ties at the home of the higher-placed teams – those who finished second and third – will determine the finalists for Wembley.
“It’s a simple format,” claimed Tattersall. “Obviously it’s new, but I think it will click. I have been involved in football for a long time. Play-offs, with four teams and two legs that’s not the only way you can do it.
“In various countries there are different methods; even the Football League has adopted a different method when they used to have a team in the old second division playing one of the bottom clubs in the old first division.
“How can we make it more exciting for longer periods and for more clubs? Well you can change the play-off format. This will extend the excitement and bring more clubs into the promotion race.”
While extending the play-off to involve six teams may create more of an opportunity for aspiring clubs, Tattersall was quick to defend the move with some claiming it is unfair on the team finishing second potentially being beaten to promotion by a team finishing in seventh place.
“Of course that could happen,” he said. “But we must take take into account it would be very hard for a team finishing in seventh to do it because they would have to play two away games, with one, the semi-final, likely against a club who are much better than them.
“That’s part of what we are doing here; creating and extending the excitement. That is the play-offs. They are not fair. But we have decided already the play-offs are a better way of determining who else should go up.”
Meanwhile, Tattersall claimed it was his long-term ambition to create a second automatic promotion spot for the National League. Although he admitted he faces challenges with League Two clubs highly unlikely to support such a move.
“Those clubs are reluctant to go for it because it will affect them directly, so we need to build up a case across football and the Football League to see if it’s the right thing for the pyramid,” he added.
“You need to get a lot of the governing bodies on your side; that is my ambition and the ambition of the league. There isn’t a magic leaver you can pull to make it happen. You need the governing bodies to work with you and to see it is good for the game on the whole.”