NLS Club Allocations
By Kerry Miller
The Football Association’s Step 5 and 6 constitutions, which were made public on Friday morning, have stunned all connected to the Toolstation Western League from club chairmen to casual supporters and the ramifications and fall out will undoubtedly lead to appeals and questions which demand answers.
While most expected the league to be reduced to 40 member clubs from the current 42 as per the general plan laid down some time ago by the FA, few within it were geared up to lose six and gain just two, leaving Division One with just 18 sides and 34 league games.
The Premier Division set up appears to be as most assumed it would with the departure of both champions Street and runners-up Melksham Town to the Southern League and the promotion of champions Westbury United and runners-up Roman Glass St George. With Wells City and Longwell Green Sports relegated that left 18 in the mix and with SW Peninsula League champions Plymouth Parkway coming straight up to the Premier and Southern Leaguers Shortwood United taking voluntary demotion and being placed in the Premier that made the 20 clubs which it was believed was the FA’s aim for both divisions.
Unfortunately and shockingly, the panel have taken Bristol side Almondsbury and Wiltshire-based Malmesbury Vics and placed them in the Hellenic League and have not granted reprieves to Portishead Town and Warminster Town, who are both facing life in county leagues while staring at an 18 team division. Gloucestershire County League Thornbury Town were also expected to take their place in Division One but they too have been put into the Hellenic League, which has two 14 club Step 6 divisions, albeit underpinned with reserve teams and youth clubs and one which lost every game last season but has still been offered a place.
All last season we had been at meetings where we have been told that the FA wanted two divisions of 20..
Warminster Town chairman Pete Russell reacted to the news by saying: “All last season we had been at meetings where we have been told that the FA wanted two divisions of 20 only to see today that they have reduced it to 18 and taken Almondsbury and Malmesbury. ‘Having two spaces available and moving two clubs sideways it makes no sense to relegate us and Portishead Town. ‘What happens if the Wiltshire League already has a full quota of clubs when their constitution comes out next week?”
Portishead Town chairman Adrian Green was equally perplexed at the news and said: “We only heard through a supporter’s Twitter feed that the division was down to 18 and so as a club have not had a chance to discuss what, if anything, we can do but it is a bombshell as we were only chatting at the weekend at the Convention about the 20-20 split and frankly how and why the FA have done this is a mystery.”
National website Non-League Matters very quickly exploded with posts as the whole of the Step 5 and 6 set ups were published and Salisbury-based Sarumio posted: “Why is the Western League Division One running with 18 teams - why have they not reprieved Portishead and Warminster to run with 20? The Wessex have had their bottom side (Folland Sports) reprieved, so why are the Western League sides being treated so differently? How can the FA relegate Warminster Town and Portishead Town and yet let Tytherington Rocks stay at Step 6 despite not gaining a single point last season.“
Meanwhile Tim Burgin, a Stourbridge-based Welton Rovers supporter who is often seen at Western League grounds commented: “I'm sure there are sound geographical reasons, but I can't help feeling sorry for Almondsbury and Malmesbury Victoria, who are moving from a proper 22 team division in a proper football league to a 14 team division with reserves and youth teams. ‘I hope Portishead and Warminster appeal: no reason why they should be relegated.”
Another fan, Ashtree RockBee stated: “ I dread to think what Almondsbury and Malmesbury Victoria think about eight less home league games a season, as well as some local fixtures against first teamers replaced by a handful against youth / reserve set-ups.”
As the situation stands it is understood that clubs have a right of appeal channel whereas individual leagues may not have and with the Step 7 constitution being formulated in a few day’s time, and with a Bank Holiday in between, time is of the essence for the various clubs affected by these decisions.
Meanwhile over in the Premier Division the league are looking forward to welcoming Plymouth Parkway and Shortwood United, who have arrived from different directions both geographically and metaphorically. Parkway come with a reputation as a strong club on and off the field and although well-known and respected throughout Devon and Cornwall there will be many further up country ready to find out what the fuss has been about in recent seasons. Their well-appointed home ground, Bolitho Park, is on the northern edge of Plymouth not far from the Tavistock road and they often play home games on Fridays, although that would appear less of an option next season given the distance some clubs will be travelling. They backed up their league title win with victory in the Devon St Lukes Bowl to complete the double and have already designed a new kit to commemorate entry into the Western League as well as cementing a money-spinning pre-season friendly against Plymouth Argyle on July 7.
Shortwood United have taken the alternative route having decided that life in the Southern League was a step too far at the moment and have dropped down to Western League football as the northern most side in the competition. Situated a mile or so across the valley from Forest Green Rovers, Shortwood’s delightfully appointed Meadowbank home is reached by a tortuous route up a valley road which would have had Christopher Columbus scratching his head and binning his Sat Nav. He may well have found Japan, the Bahamas Archipelago, San Salvador, Venezuela and Central America but even he would be doing well to hit Meadowbank first time round. Once there, contemporary explorers will not be disappointed and all at the Western League welcome them into the fold.
Pre season action is being formulated each day and Premier Division Bradford Town have been busy on and off the park since the last games were played only a couple of weeks ago. First team boss Danny Greaves has resigned after two successful years to take over at Southern League neighbours Frome Town which has left a managerial void which the Wiltshire club will be looking to fill very soon. They begin on July 7 with a home friendly against Welsh side Cwmbran Town and are committed to an attractive weekend of competitive football at Swindon Supermarine for the Supermarine Cup with matches against the home side at 1pm on Saturday July 28th and Banbury United a day later, also at 1pm. Sadly it will be without striker Karim Rendall as the experienced and much travelled player has decided to retire.
Some other clubs have published friendly dates starting on July 7 with Calne Town v Devizes Town and three days later Hengrove Atheltic entertain neighbours Fry Club while Bridgwater Town go to Somerset County League Somerton Town.
A day later Corsham Town are home to Highworth Town then on Saturday July 14 Chipping Sodbury Town face Wessex League Fareham Town, Fry Club play Cribbs and Kintbury Rangers have a visit from Calne Town.
Calne also visit Shrivenham on July 21 while Chard Town are home to Somerston Town on Thursday July 26.
Saturday July 28 sees the staging of the Toolstation Charity Cup at the Memorial Ground Penistone, between Northern Counties East side Penistone Church FC, based in Barnsley, South Yorkshire and Buckland Athletic. Kicking off at 2.30pm it is a curtain raiser which is bound to be competitively fought and will be ideal as a final run out before the league begins seven days later.