The North West Counties Football League is set to undergo the “biggest shake-up of a generation” after being approved to expand by the Football Association.
The league was in direct competition with ‘at least three other leagues’ for the new division, with the FA deciding earlier this year to award expansion to the now-named Hallmark Security League.
Since the news was made official back in late 2017, following months of speculation, many teams from in the league and those below have been eager to find out exactly what this means for them.
We spoke to NWCFL League Development Officer Gary Langley, to find out more. We’ll get to his thoughts very shortly.
The current set-up sees a Premier Division containing 23 teams (an odd number due to the restructure and refinancing of Northwich Victoria following an internal collapse), and a First Division with 22 clubs.
In the Premier Division, one team (the winners) is promoted to the Evo-Stik North, with the bottom three teams being relegated.
At the bottom, two teams are deemed as relegated, yet that’s not always the case, as Ashton Town were the only club who fell from the league that finished in the drop zone.
A New Dawn
That’s not the case now, however.
The NWCFL have been carrying out ground grading assessments on various clubs around the north west, with teams such as Lower Breck and Avro being two examples of this.
The league is actively seeking clubs who will pass these assessments, and therefore stand a chance of being promoted to the newly restructured division.
The new structure is not yet set in stone, however the NWCFL have given teams a rough guide as to what is coming. Gary tells us what the structure will be.
“Our structure will be a Premier Division and a two Division One levels based on a North/South split, of which the division point is yet to be decided.”
A minimum of 16 teams are required for each north/south division, meaning at least 10 new faces will emerge into the league structure.
Each league, including the Premier Division, will be potentially reduced to 20 teams maximum as FA guidelines now suggest.
It will be interesting to see how this will be managed should the league decide to reduce the Premier Division from 23 to 20.
With four set to be relegated and three set to be promoted from the First Division, there’s still two more than recommended.
We’ll have to wait and see whether teams within the league are laterally moved, as well as teams from other leagues coming in from the opposite direction.
The geographical point of separation for the First Division’s has not yet been decided either, and will likely be determined by the league committee when they have a better understanding of which teams are to be in the league structure.
Clubs from out of the traditional catchment area could potentially be squeezed in, meaning less teams from lower leagues could end up being promoted this season.
Gary Tells Us More
“The re-structuring of the Non-League pyramid over the summer of 2018 will be the biggest shake-up of the playing levels for a generation.
“For us at the Hallmark Security League, this has been 12-18 months in the making. We have had to assess whether to apply to run the new step six division in the north and then make a pitch to the FA for it, as we were in direct competition with at least three other leagues who were interested in taking it on.”
It’s nothing new for the league to run an extra division either, as Gary further explains.
“Running three divisions is nothing new to us – until 1987 we ran with three divisions and up until a few years ago we also had a reserve division.”
All of these leagues need administering, assistance, development and support so when it came to our pitch to the FA we highlighted our proven record in this field, as well as the fact the League Structure is strong enough to support this without having to increase costs to existing clubs.
“For club’s, this is a unique opportunity for some who are currently out of the non-league pyramid, or in the Grassroots system, to make that leap.
“For some it is a chance to return to previous levels having had to perhaps drop out in the past to reorganise or who have been relegated.
“Clubs such as Ashton Town and Vauxhall Motors have applied, as well as clubs such as Garstang, who are regarded as very progressive clubs but who just have not been able to reach the top of their divisions to seal promotion.
“In the past, the North West Counties League have set a number of clubs on their way towards the Football League or National League structure as it is now. Clubs like Fleetwood and Accrington Stanley stand as testament to that, and this restructure could be the start of a similar journey for one of the up to ten new clubs we may need.”
‘Up to ten clubs’ is how many Gary estimates (and that’s all it is at this stage, an estimation) will be asked to step up. So when will they find out?
“We will likely find out in May who the runners and riders are ahead of the leagues AGM in June but we will have to hit the ground running and as a league we will be ready to roll.”
It’s not as straightforward as club’s being called up from lower leagues, however.
“Each division will have twenty clubs in accordance with the FA’s requirement for leagues from step three and below to have a maximum of 20 clubs each.
“We could find clubs being moved to us from as far afield as Staffordshire, Shropshire and West Yorkshire.
“Depending on how many of these lateral moves are required to accommodate the 20-20 splits in other divisions, this could restrict how many clubs are required and we could see ourselves with fifteen clubs applying but perhaps only between five and eight being accepted.”
Long Road Ahead
Clearly, there’s still a lot of work ahead for those in charge at the NWCFL. Once this season is finished, the lateral moves from within and other divisions will become apparent.
Therefore, the clubs who are hopeful of promotion will then be chosen to fill the gaps where they are needed in this restructure.
It’s obvious these changes are going to be quick and leave little time to settle before the season starts again in August.
That’s not going to be a problem for the league according to Gary, who says they’ll be “ready to roll” after hitting the ground running in the summer.
Good luck to all the clubs applying, and we’ll keep you as informed as possible when it comes to the decisions made.