It’s Time For Three Up, Three Down
Following on from the issue raising it’s head again on the Non League Show on BBC Radio Five Live recently, I thought it would be a good time to offer my thoughts on the matter.
Several club chairmen in the non-league pyramid, and indeed some in League Two, have expressed their desire to see a “three up, three down” system between the Conference Premier and the Football League’s basement division. This, they say, would establish parity with the divisions above and below in terms of promotion and relegation places, and would also give more clubs a chance to get into the professional game.
On the face of it, League Two chairmen being in favour of it smacks of murderers voting for the death penalty, but it could benefit them in the long run. Of the two clubs that go down from League Two each season, it is very rare to see one of those being a club that was promoted from the Conference the season before. Instead, it is usually clubs in a downward spiral that find themselves falling through the trapdoor into this wonderful world we call non-league (eleven of the twenty four teams in the Conference Premier are former members of the Football League). Therefore, it makes sense for them to want as many clubs going back up as possible, therefore giving them the best possible chance of a return to the league.
Similarly, for those looking to get out of the Conference, an extra promotion place would be a godsend. How often do we see one club run away with the title, leaving the chasing pack to jostle for the playoff positions, and rendering the last few matches of the season for some clubs totally meaningless in terms of their highest possible finish. This could also then have a knock on effect for their playoff campaigns, and ultimately harm their prospects of joining the Football League. And let’s not overlook just how good and downright hard a division it is these days, or how good the top teams have been. In the last two seasons, the champions have amassed more than a hundred points, whilst the second placed team got ninety or more. Only on one of those occasions did the second placed team get the promotion they deserved (AFC Wimbledon in 2011). In fact, only one other club has been promoted through the playoffs after finishing second since they were introduced in 2002-03, when Hereford United beat Halifax Town 3-2 in 2005/06. This clearly points to how demoralising it can be to go through a forty six game season, finish as the second best team, and then have to go into a playoff campaign.
There really aren’t any feasible arguments against the proposal. Gone are the days when the clubs who win promotion are then denied that promotion by the state of their ground (ah, ground grading), and half of the current Conference premier are already full time clubs. And when you consider that even chairmen such as Anthony Kleanthous of Barnet, a club who perennially struggle for their place in League Two, are in favour of the change, then surely it has to go through?!? Mind you, it took long enough to get the playoffs introduced!
There is some hope on the matter however. On the recent episode of the Non League Show, Conference PR man Colin Peake said he expected the proposal to be heard, and maybe even passed, at the next AGM. Let’s hope it happens!