Football League proposes radical restructure of divisions

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The Football League Board has put forward a number of sweeping changes to the structure of its own competitions and the most significant proposal involves increasing the number of clubs in the Football League to 80 across four divisions. 

Seventy-two clubs currently compete across three divisions - the Championship, League One, and League Two - the additional teams required would likely be drawn from the National League although the proposals don’t set this in stone.

If clubs were allocated equally across the divisions in the new system clubs would have eight fewer league games per season.

The Football League says this will maximise the number of weekend fixtures and mean fewer long midweek trips are needed. During 2015/16 there were 10 rounds of midweek fixtures in the Championship and six in both League One and League Two. The new proposals would see midweek league fixtures almost entirely eradicated.

The Football League Trophy would also see a new format introduced to include a group structure of three games followed by a knockout stage. Group games would be played over the middle weekend of international breaks to “provide the competition with its own identity”.

The League Cup format would remain unchanged and the Football League play-offs would still be the last major football event of the domestic season. The Football League says these changes are in line with major Premier League and FA objectives such as protecting the FA Cup, supporting the England team, and increasing the prospect of club success at a European level.

Throughout this process the Football League insists that a number of key principles will guide any changes - the primary one being that no clubs should be financially weakened by the changes. Promotion to and relegation from the top-flight would remain although there would be no relegation spots out of the Football League in 2018/19.

The Football League says: “The congested fixture list remains one of the game’s biggest concerns with insufficient dates available in each season to sensibly accommodate both League and Cup fixtures without significant clashes. This concern is not unique to the Football League, it is shared for differing reasons by both the Premier League and FA.

“The proposal, which takes into account English football’s collective concerns, enjoys the 'in principle' support of executives from the Premier League and FA. The Premier League is due to take a report to their Clubs at their summer meeting. The FA Executive needs to consult with their Board.

“The Board has discussed a number of approaches to addressing the challenges in this area. Please note at this stage the Board is offering no recommendation other than asking its members to give full consideration to the proposal which would start in season 2019/20.”

While the proposals are relatively detailed a number of key questions remain - something the Football League acknowledges. The earmarked transition season would be 2018/19 - how will this affect promotion and relegation? Where do the extra teams come from? What is the impact on the National League (AKA Conference)?

The Football League argues that a reduction in the number of fixtures played “would be the catalyst for further change” which might encompass a winter break, the future of the Community Shield, the possibility of midweek FA Cup rounds, and even an end to FA Cup replays.

Will this happen? What does the FSF think?

If these changes are to take place the Football League will need to confirm them by November 2017 to ensure a “smooth transition between current and future domestic Football League broadcasting agreements”. Football League clubs will be asked to vote on this at their June 2017 AGM.

Before that time the Football League will also have to convince other “stakeholders” that it is in their interests too. “If consensus can be reached around these matters, it is the Football League’s belief that a genuine ‘Whole Game Solution’ will be achieved,” says the Football League.

The Football Supporters’ Federation believes that fans have a crucial voice in that process and will ensure it is heard.

FSF Chair Malcolm Clarke says: “These proposals include sweeping structural changes that could have ramifications for supporters in the Football League, Premier League, National League, and beyond.

“One of the unique aspects of the game in this country is how deep the roots go. Clubs at step five of the football pyramid and below have magnificent levels of support that equivalent clubs in other countries could only dream about.

“The FSF would like to kick-start a national debate among fans on the future structure of our game and, should these ideas remain on the table, we will hold a full and detailed consultation with supporters at all levels of the game to find out their views on these proposals.”

  • The Supporters Summit, hosted by the Football Supporters' Federation and Supporters Direct, will be held at Wembley Stadium in partnership with The Football Association on Saturday 16th July (9.30am-5.30pm). Should these proposals remain on the table they will be debated at the Summit which is open to ALL fans. We hope to see you there - register here.