The National League System (NLS) has been restructured following the completion of the 2017-18 season.
Additional divisions have been created at Step 3 (one division), Step 4 (one division) and Step 6 (two divisions).
As part of the structural changes, The FA’s Leagues Committee (FALC) has standardised and, in some instances reduced, the numbers of clubs per division in order to create consistency and reduce the need for midweek travel.
By 2020-21 the FALC hopes to add an additional division at Step 4 and two further divisions at Step 5 in order to create the ‘perfect’ 1-2-4-8-16 divisional model at Steps 1 to 5 of the NLS.
This would allow for a unified and simple promotion and relegation structure. Whilst the number of divisions at Step 6 from 2020-21 has not yet been confirmed, it is intended that movement between Steps 5 and 6 will be fair and consistent across the country.
Step 6 process for 2018-19
Next season, the bottom two clubs of each of the 14 Step 5 divisions will be relegated to Step 6.
28 clubs from the 19 divisions are required from Step 6. The 19 champion clubs are promoted and the 19 second-placed clubs are ranked in order of points per game – the nine clubs with the best points per game will also be promoted.
As the FALC wishes to be equitable across the country, the points per game element has been introduced.
This means that the leagues at Step 6 currently operating with play-offs (Northern Counties East and North West Counties Leagues, who are both disappointed but will accept the FALC’s decision) will not be able to do so until the ‘perfect’ pyramid is in place. The FALC acknowledges that this is not ideal, but the solution is a temporary one in order to work towards the long term goal.
It is important to note that promotions are to a ‘pool’ of clubs who are then allocated to leagues rather than to a specific league or league that any particular club have historically been attached to.
Until this year's change in regulation, leagues at Step 6 had a myriad of different quantity of promoted clubs and ways to achieve the promotions:
- 3 promoted, no play-offs
- 3 promoted, 1 via play-offs
- 2 promoted, no play-offs
- 2 promoted, 1 via play-offs
- 1 promoted, clubs also have to pay to apply (independent Step 6 league)
This would result in a 1 in 20, 2 in 20 or 3 in 20 chance of promotion depending on a clubs geographical location – it was also unfair on those applying for promotion from the three independent Step 6 divisions as they had to make a payment to The FA in order to apply for promotion.
Once the ‘perfect’ pyramid is arrived at it would present the opportunity to reconfigure this area and to introduce play-offs to all Step 6 divisions.
Until that point, the FALC believes that it has arrived at a fair decision for the Step level as a whole.
The FA understands the challenges faced by clubs in the NLS and have partially completed the restructure work, which has been carried out for the benefit of the players and supporters of the National League System game.
As detailed above, there are further enhancements to come over the coming years which will further improve the experience for players, clubs and supporters and these are anticipated to be in place upon the conclusion of the 2019-20 season.
The FALC is truly committed in achieving this vision and feel that this has been demonstrated by the recent, swift action in forming the additional Step 3 and 4 divisions.