Non-League Restructure explained: Striving towards a bright new era

MORE THAN 100 Non-League clubs at Step 4-6 could be celebrating promotion this summer with the FA pressing ahead with the postponed restructure that will see an eighth division at Step 4.

The plans, which include two additional divisions at Step 5 and a reduction of Step 6 divisions from 20 to 17, were shelved last year following the coronavirus outbreak that ended the 2019-20 season.

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When the 2020-21 campaign was also curtailed there were fears the restructure – designed to make the National League System a pure pyramid and reduce travel times and costs – would again have to be put on hold.

But the FA Alliance and Leagues Committees will recommend to FA Council that it goes ahead in time for the new kick-off. Despite last season’s playing records being declared null and void, they will be combined with this years to get a Points Per Game table that will partly guide who gets promoted through an application process, that will also likely look at areas including club licensing, ground grading and security of tenure.

NEW LEAGUES

● One new division will be created at Step 4, to be administered by the NPL.

● Two new divisions will be created at Step 5, to be administered by the Combined Counties League and the United Counties League.

● The number of divisions at Step 6 will be reduced to 17.

PROMOTED CLUBS

● 110 clubs will be required to upwardly move within the pyramid at Steps 4-6.

● 20 clubs will move from Step 5 to Step 4.

● 60 clubs will move from Step 6 to Step 5 (20 to backfill those clubs elevated to Step 4, and 40 to populate the two new divisions).

● 30 clubs will move from Regional NLS Feeder Leagues to Step 6 (to bring Step 6 divisions to their full quota, taking into account the reduced number of divisions going forwards).

HOW WILL PROMOTIONS BE DECIDED INTO STEP 4 AND 5?

Each club will be allocated an unweighted points-per-game figure on the basis of its completed fixtures in both the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, i.e. the club’s total points across both seasons will be added together and divided by the number of games it has played across both seasons (a club must have played in each of the two seasons both at the same Step in order to be eligible for upward movement).

Clubs will then be ranked within their respective leagues on the basis of those calculations.

WAIT, WASN’T THE 2019-20 CAMPAIGN DECLARED NULL & VOID?

That’s right but the FA say that we are in unprecedented times. An FA spokesperson said: “The circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic in non-elite sport, including the “expunging” of results as occurred in the 2019-20 season, are unique and unprecedented. The Committees considered a number of different options for the selection of clubs to be eligible for upwards movement as part of the restructure.

“Ultimately, the Committees, in particular the Leagues Committee, felt that it was fair and appropriate to take into account the results of completed fixtures in the 2019-20 season bearing in mind the different options available and the limited amount of 2020-21 data available given that so few fixtures had been able to be completed this season.

“The Committees therefore intend for these results to be used, in conjunction with the results of completed fixtures in the 2020-21 season, in order to calculate sporting merit and identify eligible clubs.”

STEP 5

The top three ranked clubs from each of the North West Counties League, Northern Counties East League and Northern League, along with the top ranked club from the remaining 11 Step 5 divisions, will be considered eligible for upward movement to Step 4 and will be invited to make an application to do so.

Multiple clubs will be upwardly moved from these specific leagues in order to address specific challenges with travelling distance and time which currently exist at Step 4.

STEP 6

The top two ranked clubs in each of the South West Peninsula League divisions, along with the top three ranked clubs from the 18 remaining Step 6 divisions, will be considered eligible for upward movement to Step 5 and will be invited to make an application for upward movement.

Fewer clubs will be upwardly moved from the South West Peninsula League Divisions on the basis of geographical reasons for the relevant divisions at Step 5.

Committees are considering what additional requirements clubs eligible based on sporting merit will be required to meet in order to be upwardly moved via this process and further details will be communicated.

It will not be mandatory for any club which is eligible for upward movement to make an application. If an eligible club decides not to do so, the next best ranked club will be invited (and so on) subject to any cut off point deemed appropriate by the Committees.

WHAT ABOUT VACANCIES AT STEP 6?

The process outlined above will lead to a need to backfill in certain divisions at Step 6 to bring them up to quota.

Where there is a need to do so, the Committee will then liaise with the relevant Step 6 leagues and ask them to consider applications that were made by clubs on or before December 31, 2020 from clubs in Regional National League System Feeder Leagues within their relevant geographical area.

Given the degree of variation in the number of fixtures completed by clubs in Regional NLS Feeder Leagues, the Committees did not consider it appropriate to utilise sporting data in the same way to determine upward movement.

Accordingly, the proposed upward movement will be determined by the relevant Leagues on the basis of a subjective application process (although sporting data may be taken into account), with the final decision to allocate clubs being with the Committee.

All applications will be assessed by the Committees on the basis of the principles above and clubs will be allocated accordingly.

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