Garry Clarke casts his eye over restructuring possibilities in the National League System

DESPITE the 2020/21 season for “non elite” football teams being brought to an end, could 1874 Northwich still be promoted to the Northern Premier League?

For a number years the Football Association have carried out numerous reshuffles of the myriad of football leagues which make up the non-league system with the ultimate aim of creating a pure 1-2-4-8-16 pyramid with the National League sitting at the top feeding into the Football League.

The latest restructuring, which would have created three extra divisions, 1 at step 4 and 2 at step 5, was due to have taken place during summer 2020, but due to Covid-19 preventing the 2019/20 season from being completed, the restructuring was put back 12 months.

The same fate befell the 2020/21 season when it was announced on Wednesday 24th February that the FA’s Alliance and League committees had decided “subject to the approval of FA Council, the 2020-21 league season for Steps 3-6 of the NLS should be curtailed with immediate effect, with no further league matches taking place this season”.

However, the FA have not ruled out the possibility of implementing the restructuring changes as the press release went on to say “ both committees will revisit discussions around a potential restructure at Steps 4-6 of the NLS, which was previously agreed and has been on hold since the 2019-20 season.”

Speculation abounds regarding the criteria to be used in determining which teams are to be promoted if the restructure goes ahead before the start of the 2021/22 season, with leagues such as the North West Counties League having barely started its 2020/21 campaign and others such as the South West Peninsula League being almost half way through their programmes.

Finding a suitable outcome to satisfy across the whole level of the game is a major problem.

There is a groundswell of opinion backing a proposal put forward by Project Non-League, and backed by a number of leading clubs, to combine the playing records of the two aborted seasons with final standings being determined on a point’s per game basis.

Its supporters believe using this formula is the best method of bridging the discrepancies in the number of games played in different leagues.

To level out an imbalance in the National League System the new step 4 division will be run by the Northern Premier League alongside its two existing First Divisions. To create the required number of clubs to form the new division the NWCFL was granted an extra two promotion slots, meaning they would promote three teams instead of just their Premier Division champions.

On the cusp of clinching promotion 1874 were sat proudly on top of the NWCFL Premier Division table when the 2019/20 season was ended, while when time was called on the 2020/21 season the green and blacks were in 10th place.

So over the two uncompleted seasons the Townfield club had taken 80 points from the 30 league games which meant their points per game average was 2.3529, the best in the NWCFL which, along with the ground improvements which have been carried out in the past 12 months, would see 1874 Northwich under this criteria promoted to the NPL First Division, where they would most likely be placed in the South West Division.

But there again, the reorganisation may be delayed for another year, abandoned altogether or a totally different random criteria used to decide promotion, who knows what will happen?

Note: Points per game averages have been taken from Non-League Maps website and are in no way official Football Association figures