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Fifth and sixth tier of non league football set for a major shake-up

The fifth and sixth tier of non league football is getting set for a major shake-up with the FA considering an amalgamation of two leagues.

Non-league football is set for a major shake-up at Steps 5 and 6 with the FA considering an amalgamation of the Western League and South West Peninsula League.

Clubs are being consulted over proposals to merge the South West Peninsula League with the Western League, creating a new league comprising of two divisions at step 5 and three at step 6. The plans have the support of the FA Leagues Committee.

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Plymouth Live report that five-division league of 18 teams each – possibly dubbed the Western Peninsula League – could begin to operate for the season after next, in 2023.

We could see two Step 6 Premier Divisions, one in the north and the other in the south, with teams from Gloucestershire, Bristol, Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall.

At Step 6 there would be three divisions – East, Central and West – to replace Division One of the Western League, which currently has Somerset and Dorset based side, and the two Peninsula League divisions, which are made up of teams from Devon and Cornwall. A graph above gives you a better idea to the proposals.

For those in the Peninsula League, it could play to their advantage of having more positions at Step 5 which would become available at the end of next season.

The proposal was co-authored by Peninsula League secretary Phil Hiscox who said: “Right at the start of our season, when Odd Down from Bath refused to play at Step 5, we knew there was trouble. We also know that there is a history of Cornish clubs going up but finding it hard to sustain the travelling year after year.

“We had an urgent situation where a Bath club didn’t want to come to Cornwall, and a longer-term worry about Cornish clubs wanting to go to Bristol year in and year out “It has been mooted before but the FA has always said ‘no’ – but with the mileages that are now being done by clubs in Bristol and Cornwall, it was the time to revisit it.

“No one else in the country does the mileage at Step 5 that the clubs currently do – and the FA had to accept that was a unique thing. And Keynsham Town not turning up at Mousehole came a week before a crunch meeting at Wembley.”

Hiscox said: “The FA have agreed to the proposal in principle and there have been a lot of meetings stretching back to June. The consultation will run from the date of the FA statement to the two leagues’ AGMs in the first couple of weeks of June.

“The plan then is for the FA to confirm that it is happening, and the start date. At the moment the statement says ‘at the earliest 23-24’. So that’s what we are working on.”

More details can be read here: http://swpleague.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Project-South-West-Proposal.pdf

Present Western League Footprint (Blue pins Premier teams, Yellow pins Div 1 teams)

Present South West Peninsula League Footprint (Blue pins SWP East teams, Yellow pins SWP West teams)

Present South West Peninsula League Footprint (Blue pins SWP East teams, Yellow pins SWP West teams)

Preferred Option Step 5 Footprint –the block area to show the potential geographical edge of each division where teams could be expected to move laterally if required

Preferred Option Step 6 Footprint -2 block areas to show the potential geographical edge of each division where teams could be expected to move laterally if required

SWP STATEMENT

The Football Association together with the South West Peninsula League and the Western League have proposed changes to the National League System to create a new structure in the South West at Step 5 and Step 6.

The proposal will benefit Clubs throughout the South West

  • For clubs playing already at Step 5 – Benefits will be reduced travel with huge savings in both time and costs for players, plus with Two Step 5 Divisions in the region rather than One, more opportunities will be available for promotion to Step 4
  • For clubs playing already at Step 6 – A far more realistic travel footprint for clubs wanting promotion to Step 5 where FA Cup entry and additional Football Foundation funding is available. For clubs happy at Step 6 the proposal protects the current travel footprints in place and entry still to the FA Vase
  • For clubs playing in the Regional Feeder leagues, more opportunities for progression through to Step 6 where Football Foundation funding and FA Vase entry opens up.
  • Below the NLS – Keeping Regional Feeder league system so that clubs anywhere in the country, but specifically here in the geographically challenged South West, can both see, AND SUSTAIN, a pathway for any club to find its rightful place in the pyramid.

Twitter users had their say with the fifth and sixth tier of non league football set for a major shake-up…

@gregc05: Seems like a sensible move but shouldn’t they review Step 5 as a whole across the country otherwise they might cause problems elsewhere? 16 leagues of similar maximum travel time across the whole country.

@leonosullivan: That ‘perfect pyramid’ didn’t last long!

@robtheobserver1: Surprised the issues in the far south west weren’t first dealt with when increasing the number from 14 to 16. For me, it was the obvious starting point….!!

@jezzaf3: They have to do something. Take the recent Keynsham – Mousehole episode. I’m sorry but a 390 mile round trip at Step 5 is absolutely insane. It shouldn’t be happening. I’d split it into West and East both with promotion into the Southern League. The geography doesn’t help.

@theraaaven: Seems reasonable

@HelpingRamone: Ideally it would be common sense to have a Premier & First Division with a geographical cross section of Cornwall & Devon clubs. To include current SWPL & Western League sides.

@Jacobwilhelmmay: They should restructure so south west peninsula has a division 1 and then a prem what directly feedback into southern League so not just 1 team from both getting promoted to Toolstation and just a additional step 5 league and this could reduces traveling as move Cornish teams in it

@swpleague: Travel would be too great – Axminster to Penzance at Step 6 without a single mile of motorway between the two towns !

@OiHolland: Why can’t the FA see the SWPL is a brilliant league as it is. The SW is nothing like the rest of the country. I’ve attended non-league games all over the country and we’re so behind. Elsewhere has so many clubs/players/businesses putting in budgets…. It’s not the same here…

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