Resident Talking Bull football analyst Bill Thomas has once again cast his eye over the promotion and relegation systems across the divisions and come up with his unique solution…
Most Bulls supporters are aware that Steps 3 and 4 both have an extra Division this season. No direct impact on us (providing we avoid relegation). We’re in the National League with no change in promotion arrangements. But I do sympathise with the teams left below us, as the number of promotion places from Steps 3 and 4 weren’t increased to allow for the additional Leagues. As a football family, we should all be concerned.
Step 3 has six promotion places shared between four Leagues, Bizarrely, Step 4 will have twelve promotion places shared between seven Leagues. At both levels, the champions will be promoted automatically, and then there will be shared promotion places via play-offs. Step 3 have 16 qualifying clubs chasing just two Play-Off places in what is generously called a “Super Play-Off”. Or more cynically, super home advantage with the away club potentially travelling hundreds of leg-weary miles. Tough enough in our Division last season with poor Weymouth facing a five hour midweek play-off match at Kings Lynn. They were beaten before they even arrived. Inter-League games massively jacks up the value of home advantage.
Step 4. Oh dear. Seven sets of Play-Offs but only five winners with the best points per League game ratio will be promoted. The other two Play-Off winners aren’t winners as they won’t be promoted. What a weird situation and understandably a few Step 4 managers said that if they knew their club couldn’t go up, they’d refuse to play. That’s understandable. Play-offs ought to be full-on games, with an objective worthy of 110% effort and worth risking injuries on the cusp of summer holidays, not glorified friendlies. Refusing to play is probably not an option as I imagine significant financial penalties will be applied if fixtures are not completed.
I appreciate these shortcomings are temporary until the FA increase Step 4 Leagues to 8 Divisions and Step 5 to 16 Leagues for the start of season 2020/21. That is a proper pyramid and will simplify promotion issues. I do understand the FA has tricky issues to overcome and their efforts are well meaning. There is interesting work underway to introduce play-offs to Step 5. Also the FA is pushing for a third promotion place from National League to Football League, an idea which gets my support. (See Talking Bulls ad infinitum.) They do much good work.
But what of the here and now? As the new season reaches its climax in April, I predict more criticism, agonised quotes and well, who knows what weird games will take place at seasons end. Our former opponents deserve far better. There is a simple solution. Relegate more clubs. A fourth club relegated from National League North and South and one extra each from the two most Southernly Step 3 Divisions sorts out the anomalies. In my opinion, it is incredibly important every level of football has enough promotion and relegation places to make it as competitive and as exciting.
(Next Up: Our resident problem solver tackles the infamous Basingstoke portaloo scandal).