Mouth of the Tyne: All change possibly as FA restructure hits a number of clubs

Soham Town Rangers and Wisbech Town

Will Soham Town Rangers and Wisbech Town be on the move in the FA's proposed restructure of non-league? - Credit: IAN CARTER

With the FA opting to push on with the planned and delayed restructure of the non-league pyramid, thoughts are now turning to how it will look. Sports reporter Neil Metcalfe has looked at the step four level to see who teams could be grouped with.

What is the restructure?

A new division at step four and two at step five mean there are going to promotions offered to 110 clubs in total across steps five, six and seven. Twenty teams from across the country, including Colney Heath, will be moved up to step four and placed in one of the now eight, 20-team divisions.

Map of how step four could look in 2021-22 according to sports reporter Neil Metcalfe

How sports reporter Neil Metcalfe thinks the eight step-four non-league divisions will look in the 2021-2022 season. - Credit: NEIL METCALFE

What are the non-league steps?

Steps are used to describe each level of non-league. The National League, the division containing the likes of Boreham Wood, Hartlepool United and Barnet, is classed at step one while the National League South, home of St Albans City, is one of two divisions at step two.

Potters Bar Town, Hitchin Town, Royston Town and St Ives Town all play in step three, containing four divisions, before you get to the soon-to-be restructured step four.

Step five is the likes of the Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division, Essex Senior League, Eastern Counties Premier Division and United Counties League Premier Division while the likes of the Premier Division in both the Herts Senior County League and Cambs County League is classed as step seven.

Where will the new division go?

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It will be run by the Northern Premier League and mean that instead of two divisions covering a mammoth area from the north east and Cumbria down to Birmingham and the Wash, there will now be three.

The most northerly of the new divisions will cover an area north of the M62 corridor, still a sizeable plot, while the north west division will stretch from Merseyside down to Birmingham.

The corresponding division on the other side of the Pennines will go from Sheffield down to the northerly parts of Cambridgeshire.

Things to note about possible look

1) There will be a gap at step four after the resignation of Drolysden from the Northern Premier League. There was no mention of how or if that will be filled and there is no mention of which division will carry the shortfall.

2) Guernsey are a wild card. I have no idea if they have to stay in the Isthmian League South East but with flights to Bristol and Exeter, flights and a ferry to Southampton and flights to both Gatwick and Stansted, they could potentially be placed in one of five divisions. I've opted to keep them where they are.

3) That one team hole could arguably go anywhere. I eventually concluded that it should go in the Southern League Division One South, covering teams from Plymouth Parkway up through Bristol and into Gloucestershire before petering out in Oxfordshire. This would allow the FA to promote another team from the south west next season if they want.

Map of how step four could look in 2021-22 according to sports reporter Neil Metcalfe

How sports reporter Neil Metcalfe thinks the eight step-four non-league divisions will look in the 2021-2022 season. - Credit: NEIL METCALFE

What does it means for some of my clubs?

Change, quite frankly. Newly-promoted teams like Colney Heath aside, there will be numerous lateral movements, teams shifting from one division to another.

It will mean some will have a bit more travelling than currently while others will be pleases to have shorter journeys.

Remember, this is ultimately a guess, an educated guess maybe, but a guess nevertheless. This is how I think the teams fit best. There are a number where it could go either way.

Map of how step four could look in 2021-22 according to sports reporter Neil Metcalfe

How sports reporter Neil Metcalfe thinks the eight step-four non-league divisions will look in the 2021-2022 season. - Credit: NEIL METCALFE

How does it looks?

Winners in the move included Welwyn Garden City and Wisbech Town while Soham Town Rangers and St Neots Town could both face a tough shift.

The latter two could be placed in Northern Premier League Division One East meaning possible trips to the likes of Sheffield and Cleethorpes Town. The move seems more likely for St Neots than Soham who are very much on the cusp of two divisions.

The big winners will be the likes of WGC and Colney Heath as they could be in the one division with the smallest area. The most northerly teams will be in Bedford while the east and west outliers are Harlow Town and Chalfont St Peter.

London teams like Uxbridge and Hanwell Town complete the look.

Wisbech will see their travel time reduced as gone will be the jaunts across to the south of Manchester and Shropshire.

Again this is my theory on how things fit best. It is possible the FA look to minimise the travelling for the like of Soham for example and increase it for others.

What is the change in mileage?

Wisbech will have their average round trip per game reduced from 191.4 miles to 125.9 but Soham will see theirs increased from 119.9 to 163.7.

Colney Heath may have been promoted but if this possible scenario comes to fruition, it would only see their average round trip per game increase by 4.8 miles, from 44 to 48.8.

Without the trips to the Midlands, Welwyn would drop from 111.2 to just 49.7.

St Neots' shift north would increase their travelling from 102.2 to 130.5.

Mileage is taken from Google and is the quickest route at the moment. It may not necessarily be the shortest journey.

It is also possible that even though mileage may have increased, actual time of travelling may not increase as uniformly, directions using motorways and major A roads for example rather than B roads and country lanes.

For comparison purposes my own home town club, Hebburn Town, are also among the teams being promoted. Their average round-trip mileage goes up from 55.6 in Northern League Division One to a whopping 179.1 in the Northern Premier League Division One North.

Nine of their 19 one-way trips are over 100 miles, with only four of them above that 55.6 mark from last year, while 15 round-trips are into three figures.

In comparison Soham have seven one-way journeys above the ton while St Neots have just three and Wisbech only one. There's always someone worse of.

Other things to note about the restructure

The one-team gap at step four is not the only hole that needs addressed. The National League is a team short after Macclesfield's demise while the hole originally left by Bury is now sitting in the National League South.

There is also a space in Southern League Premier Division South, Blackfield & Langley having disappeared.

The FA have not addressed this...yet. I can't help feel they will at some point and probably sooner rather than later.

And finally, no, I haven't done step five. That's a whole different kettle of fish and one which will need a while to fathom out. Maybe later.

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