FA restructure of non-league football that could lead to promotions at steps 5-7 ‘is on the table’

The possible restructure of the non-league football - featuring promotions from steps 5-7 of the pyramid - ‘is on the table’ according to the vice-chairman of the Southern League.

Monday, 8th March 2021, 2:52 pm
US Portsmouth - seen here scoring in a league win against Downton last September - have the best points-per-game record in Division 1 of the Wessex League since the start of 2019/20. Picture: Chris Moorhouse

But Anthony Hughes - who is also a member of the FA Council, the committee that ratifies all major decisions concerning the non-league and grassroots game - admits it won’t happen if there are any ‘difficulties’ and if any clubs feel ‘aggrieved’ at what is being proposed.

Any restructuring could see US Portsmouth promoted from Division 1 of the Wessex League to the Premier, while ambitious Hampshire Premier League clubs at step 7, such as Fleetlands and Infinity, could also be rewarded with promotion into the Wessex.

However, there won’t be any promotions from the Southern League into the National League South

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In the recent statement announcing the ‘curtailment’ of 2020/21 at steps 3-6, the FA said they would ‘revisit’ the restructuring that was due to be in place for this season.

‘It is on the table,’ said Hughes.

‘What's happened is that the appetite has come from lower down the pyramid, in as much as the leagues at steps 5 and 6 see a large bottle neck. Applications have been received to come into the National League System.

‘The appetite was from the steps 5 and 6 leagues for a way for that structure to be found for next season.

‘In all honesty, as Southern League vice-chairman, I thought it would be pretty churlish of me to deny them that opportunity if that's what clubs and the leagues really want.

‘There has to be a suitable mechanism for that to work that satisfies everybody. What we don't want is a situation where clubs at other levels feel aggrieved that their situation hasn't been taken account of.

‘If it leads to difficulties I don't think it will go ahead.

‘But if a mechanism can be found for it to go ahead then I think it's possible.

‘At the moment we've asked the FA whether they can produce a paper to show us what the pros and cons might be and how it might work, and to see if it is feasible.

‘At the same time that includes consulting the clubs.’

Hughes, speaking to the BBC’s Non-League Radio Show, was asked about the National League’s ‘let us play’ campaign where some South and North clubs are desperate to resume action after the null and voiding of their divisions last month.

A proposal to amalgamate the two tiers, featuring only the clubs that want to play on, is being discussed.

Hughes, who is also an Alliance Committee representative, said: ‘The one thing I think is important is to understand there'll be no relegation from step two (NL South/North) to step three, that's important.

‘There'll be no promotion from step three to step two whatever happens.

‘In terms of promotion from step one to step two, that in all intents and purposes is an internal issue for the National League.

‘It doesn't affect any other league, so they could come to an agreement between themselves.

‘However, that has to come to the FA Council and I don't know what the reaction to that will be and I genuinely don't know where they're at in terms of the clubs that are interested.

‘Nothing has come to us as far as the Alliance Committee is concerned about a proposal.

‘We are in extraordinary times and we are taking extraordinary decisions, so our mantle has always been over the last 12 months that we can't take anything off the table.

‘That doesn't mean it's going to happen, but I think if you said to me two years ago about this happening I'd have laughed.

‘If you said to me now 'could this happen?' then I think it’s possible.

‘We are doing extraordinary things just to get football being played and we are making decisions we never dreamt we would make.

‘I wouldn't rule anything out, that's for sure. I suspect the biggest challenge you have is convincing any club from the National League they could be relegated on the basis of a mini league from step two.’