The FA can stop Premier League clubs scrapping relegation – they can’t do the same in the EFL

Hawks’ chances of winning promotion back to the top tier of non-league football could become clearer tomorrow.

Tuesday, 19th May 2020, 11:29 am
Updated Tuesday, 19th May 2020, 11:29 am
FA Chairman Greg Clarke has told Premier League clubs they cannot scrap relegation - but the governing body cannot order the EFL to do the same. Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images.

The EFL board are due to meet to discuss the recommendations that arose from last Friday’s meetings of League One and League Two clubs.

While League One clubs remain split on how to bring 2019/20 to a close, the fourth tier clubs voted to automatically promote the top three teams on a points-per-game basis.

They also advocated the play-offs taking place and - more controversially - recommending that no club is relegated to the National League.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

That would have a huge knock-on effect for steps 1 and 2 of the non-league game, with Hawks almost certainly denied any chance of promotion from National League South if no club is relegated from League Two.

There is space for one National League club to be promoted, given Bury’s demise last September. But given that only one club can go up, the National League will scrap any play-offs - a decision which would also apply to the NL South and North divisions.

The fourth tier clubs voted to scrap relegation just a few days after FA chairman Greg Clarke told the Premier League they could not do the same.

But while the FA have the power to prevent any club being relegated from the top flight, they cannot stop the same happening in any of the three EFL divisions.

That’s because the FA hold a ‘golden share’ in the Premier League dating back to when the breakaway organisation was set up in the early 1990s.

They have always been reluctant to interfere in the business of the Premier League, though, as power has swung dramatically away from the governing body over the last 30 years and towards the game’s biggest and wealthiest clubs.

‘The FA can step in if they feel something is not being done correctly,’ outlined Hawks director Trevor Brock.

‘The FA have a golden share because at the start they were running the league - it was called the FA Premier League.’

That is true, and the competition was known as the FA Premier League until 2007.

‘I’m surprised the FA still have this share,’ Brock continued. ‘The Premier League should have knocked it on its head years ago. I can’t remember the FA ever using it - they are normally reluctant because the Premier League hold more power now and have more money.’

The FA, however, do not own any ‘golden share’ in the EFL so cannot step in and over-rule Stevenage, the bottom club in League Two, being spared demotion to the National League.

The EFL board, though, could overrule the clubs’ wishes - ‘it depends how importantly they see the fight’ Brock stated.

‘If League Two are allowed to get away with no relegation then at our level our chances (of promotion) are dead and buried.’

Apparently, the League Two clubs voted 20-4 in favour of no relegation.

It is not difficult to understand why.

At present, League Two clubs receive around £500,000 a year each as part of the Premier League’s solidarity payments.

Contrastly, each of the 24 National League clubs received £58,333 each and the NL South and North clubs £13,636 each when the Premier League advanced £125m to the EFL and NL clubs shortly after lockdown began.

However, that is not extra money - only cash that the clubs were due to receive this September anyway.

And in the same way that League Two clubs have voted to preserve the status quo with regards to no relegation, so Brock would expect the National League top flight to do likewise.

Normally, four clubs go down from the National League to be replaced by two each from the South and North divisions.

While the NL could easily honour such an arrangement via the points per game methodology used by League Two clubs, the chances of them actually doing so are next to nil.

The NL board split gives the top flight clubs six votes, while the South and North have just one apiece.

Turkeys not voting for Christmas is a phrase that springs to mind.

‘The difference in the National League is that clubs in the top flight get around £100,000 a year and clubs in the North and South get less than £20,000,’ said Brock.

‘That’s a massive, massive difference, and it’s even more in the Football League.

‘That’s why people are voting the way they are.

‘It’s all driven by money - even down at our level. Our club is a £1.5m a year business - that’s not small money, and it goes up all the time higher up.’

That is why Brock is not surprised that League Two clubs are keen on scrapping relegation.

It brings to mind the old re-election system that ran from 1890 to 1986. Following the formation of the Third and Fourth Divisions in 1958 - replacing the former Third Division North and South system - only five non-league clubs were elected to the Football League in 28 years. All too often, the bottom four clubs in the fourth tier forced to seek re-election at the end of a season were duly re-elected.

‘It’s the same self-interest the league clubs used to show, the old closed shop,’ said Brock.

‘But when the difference is a couple of million in the EFL and £100,000 in the National League, you can understand clubs voting the way they are.

‘I don’t blame them for it, that’s the situation they find themselves in.’

Hawks boss Paul Doswell recently revealed his desire to see regionalised football return.

Writing in the Non-League Paper, he asked the question: ‘How about amalgamating League One and League Two and regionalising? You could split the National League in half as North and South Premier divisions.

‘You then invite the current top 10 – or 12 – from the National League North and South to make two divisions of 22.

‘The feeder leagues then do similar and below can shuffle up too. For example the clubs feeling aggrieved in the Isthmian Premier, Northern Premier League and Southern League Premier would get the promotion they deserve into the new National North or National South.

‘In principle this could work through the whole pyramid system. It means from League One down there would be regional football.’

On a similar theme, one national newspaper last weekend revealed there had been informal discussions about merging League Two and the National League on a regionalised basis - thereby creating four divisions under the EFL umbrella.

‘Dos has spoken about the chance to regionalise the lower divisions, and you’ll never get a better chance,’ Brock stated. ‘It’s a great idea. But I have heard lots of non-league clubs talking about it, but I haven’t heard anything from the EFL or their clubs.

‘People say that clubs would save money on travelling, but they would then spend that money on players. That’s the mindset of most clubs - to spend every penny they have got on players and agents. Even at our level, most of our players have agents.’

Doswell is also fearing the worst with regards to his club’s promotion chances.

‘If League 2 get away with it, I fear the National League will say it’s unfair to relegate anybody from the National League on the same basis,’ he told local BBC radio at the weekend.