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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Divide And Conquer

As part of our Christmas series looking at the future of football, Turls argues that an idea from the past should be adopted to cure football's present day problems.

Torquay's Plainmoor ground - a long away day destination for many clubs

Football has been stolen from us by the financially motivated leeches that used to hang around with bankers and their ilk. Football is all about money: making it, earning it, spending it, finding it.

In the past few seasons we have seen a shedload of clubs have their financial woes thrust into the waiting bosom of the media - but only if it is a Premier League club?

Where was the coverage for the demise of King's Lynn FC or Farsley Celtic? Barely a whisper went around the sports journalists when yet another Non League club crumbled under financial pressure?

It's not just Non League sides that get overlooked either, Bournemouth appeared to be in a journalistic wasteland because their financial woes have been prodded on occasion - but only to discuss the larger problem that haunts football.

Club's financies are in meltdown and something needs to be done to address this problem. The FA's 'Fit and Proper Person's test' is a sham, so that isn;t the answer.

Very few clubs appear to be solving the problem themselves so it's about time someone forced them into action.

I want to merge League Two with the Conference Premier and then split them into two geographical divisions.

The Conference is just as good as League Two these days. When you consider the amount of traditional Non League clubs in the Football League and the ever-expanding list of ex-League clubs in the Conference, it's easy to consider both leagues to be equals.

In days of yore, the Football League was set up as Divisions One, Two, and Three split into North and South leagues.

Now, I can't comment on whether this was a good system because I wasn't around back then - I am only a wee nipper - but I look at the system and think it should come back.

I also think the mullet is due a comeback, but that's for another blog.

My propsal wouldn't affect the likes of QPR and Reading, but it would make a massive difference on the finances of clubs like Darlington, Torquay, and Barrow. For these clubs, an away day is, more often that not, a mammoth trek.

Let's take a look at Torquay's travels. It's not as bad as it has been in the past, but, when you consider they have to negotiate a 600-mile round trip for an away day at Morecambe, you have to understand the financial pressures that clubs in far flung locations are put under.

It's amazing to think that they have to travel over 200 miles just to get to the East Midlands!

The two leagues below the Conference are already divided into regional divisions, as is every division below them - so they don't need sorting out.

The leagues above the 'new and improved Leagues Two North and South' won't be changed and this means they won't feel the benefits of the new system.

It would have a range of benefits for all teams involved though, not just the ones who are on the edge of the country. However, before I start talking about the upside of this glorious plan, let's break it down and explain how it would work.

Stevenage celebrate winning the Conference - but should it be merged with League Two?

Fortunately, League Two's promotion and relegation system means that four teams go up and two teams go down. I'm proposing in each regional division that two teams would be promoted to League One.

The champions of each division would go up automatically and there would be a four team play off to see who would be the other team to progress.

In terms of relegation, there are a number of ways you can approach the situation and I'd opt for a change of system.

I'm proposing that two teams are relegated from each division - thus allowing the Conference North and South to keep their promotion system of two up.

Then the bottom two in League Two North and South would be relegated to either the Conference North or the Conference South. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

The most obvious benefit to this system is that each team will have less travelling to do. This means that they don't have to spend as much to travel to games.

It also means that more fans may attend away games because it's a closer fixtures. Immediately, this means less money spent on travel and more money earned from fans attending.

Not only this but, because of the new regional system, teams are more likely to face their local rivals on a more frequent basis. Thus providing even greater attendances and more revenue.

Another thing to consider when looking at a possible rise in attendances is that if the average attendance is raised by a significant amount - which is entirely feasible - then clubs would have the option of reducing the price of tickets.

Undoubtedly, this would be brilliant news for fans up and down the country and might even create the possibility of even more supporters attending games.

Of course, the bad side to this idea is that it would affect clubs who are close to the North/South border.

Every season, these clubs would be consulting with the FA to see which league they would be in. The fans would be in a constant state of flux as they faced the possibility of changing leagues every season.

There is also the danger that, if one team ran away with the league - like Newport County in the Conference South last year - that all the other teams would be left feeding off their scraps and battling for the play offs.

However, in truth, this is no different to how the Conference Premier works now.

The reality is that this looks like a good syste to adopt. However, I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting this as a long term answer to football's problems.

I'm suggesting this system is adopted for a fixed period of time - allowing every club to sort of their financial troubles. It would be a form of financial therapy.

Football is on its knees and this could help flagging finances and small attendances. Too many clubs are in a financial mess with no real hope of getting out of it in the neat future.

And don't worry, Doctor Lakes would be on hand if the change became too much to bear.

On Friday, Nobes looks at how he would improve the game as a spectacle.


  1. Makes perfect sense. As you say, every level below is already divided geographically (though the Evostik could be far more sensibly split into east and west, not north and south). Ticket prices put me off attending any league above the Evostik at the moment - Darlington charge a fiver more for home games than Yokohama F. Marinos do for a seat in the stadium where the 2002 World Cup Final was held. Something needs to be done before clubs start folding.

  2. I agree - excellent idea. The reduced travel time for fans would make for bigger crowds and help foment new rivalries. I also think it's a sound suggestion to incorporate League Two and the Conference - although I wonder if more than a few fans of League Two clubs would disagree.