Date: 20th May 2016 at 10:49pm
Written by:

The Football League have confirmed that Northampton Town have received a ‘discussion document’ that details proposed major changes to the make up of the game in this country.

Maybe this will apply to Northampton – maybe it mostly won’t – but elements of the changes will apply to clubs irrespective of whatever division they find themselves in come ‘decision time’.

Member clubs of the Football League are being asked for their thoughts on a major re-organisation of the current three divisions below the Premier League and these changes would see the introduction of a ‘League Three’ with the current Championship, League One and League Two levels becoming a 20 team competition.

If these changes are passed it would be the biggest shake up since the breakaway Premier League back in 1992 and it would see five professional divisions in total before entering the current National League, or Conference as most of us still call it.

It would also see 100 clubs competing across the professional game as opposed to the 92 we currently have.

The changes wouldn’t stop there, as although the League Cup and League Trophy would be retained, it’s been suggested the latter now re-formats to a group structure of three games prior to then becoming a knock out competition.

The Football League statement announcing this ‘discussion document’ stresses no decisions have been taken and nor are recommendations being given, they are simply asking for thoughts on these proposals and then seeing what other ideas those thoughts may throw up.

The end game is changes potentially introduced for the 2019-2020 season – so there is plenty of time to debate this, as they no doubt will.

Asking member clubs to give their full consideration to this document, the Football League wants them to also consider the following:

Football League Clubs should be in a financially no worse, or preferably better, position as a result of any changes;
Promotion to/relegation from the Premier League must be retained at three places;
There would be no relegation out of The Football League in season 2018/19;
Football League Clubs must support the final proposal.

With press reports earlier in the season about counterparts from the Premier League and Football League pencilling in a summer meeting to deal with congestion in the game when it came to fixtures, early concerns of such changes only benefiting the bigger clubs and Premier League based clubs – given the lighter schedule and precedence they already get – it seems this ‘discussion document’ is an attempt to help the top flight and ergo the England national team, whilst also being fair and seeking to help out clubs lower down the scale as well.

The Premier League have also confirmed themselves discussions will be had with their member clubs over the aspects that will apply to the top flight more specifically.

Fans may remember, one such idea was removing replays from domestic cup competition, but of course big draw replays can be the lifeblood financially for many down the pyramid.

Whilst that may still happen, the ideas being discussed at Football League level, it’s hoped will stem any financial loss across the board, and leave clubs healthier in the process. We’ll have to see if that’s what actually happens, but the first step for major changes was to look at the issues without Premier League tinted glasses for those not there, and at least that seems to be the case – especially when fixture congestion has been discussed and the Football League’s run of midweek games or multiple matches in a week or two are well known.

On that front, it also says that part of the proposal based on changes mooted at the moment would see the number of midweek games in each division reduce.

Next season the Championship expects nine midweek fixtures for clubs, League One seven, and League Two six. For 2019/20 if these proposals are accepted on face value, it would see one midweek in the Championship, League Two and the new League Three, but League One wouldn’t have a midweek fixture at all.

The objectives on the fixture list are listed as:

To maximise the number of weekend/Bank Holiday league fixtures;
To remove where practical fixture congestion and scheduling conflicts;
To protect/improve financial distributions/income generation for Football League clubs;
To maintain the Football League Play-Off Finals as the last event of the domestic season.

In doing so, the Football League also acknowledge the objectives of the Premier League and Football Association, thus being:

Increasing the prospect of success for Clubs in European competitions;
Increasing the prospect of success for England Teams at all levels;
Retaining the value and status of the FA Cup Competition;
Avoiding a ‘problematic` fixture clash with UEFA Competitions;
To achieve a fixture schedule where the FA Cup Final is played the week after the last round of Premier League fixtures.

Jointly they believe they can achieve both, and in doing so provide Football League clubs with the following benefits, as a minimum, in the process:

The importance of each individual fixture will increase;
Reduced travel costs to four games which are often at a distance;
Midweek travel for fans vastly reduced;
Potential to reduce squad size;
Increased importance of reserve team football;
Enhanced recovery time/match preparation;
Increase in sale of season tickets due to reduction in midweek games;
Increased profile on League One, Two & Three at different stages of the season;
Statistically greater chance of promotion (and relegation);
At least six new Clubs (30%) to play each season;
No relegation out of the Football League in 2018/19;
Different formats for the Football League Trophy available;
Opportunity to standardise promotion/relegation.

It also confirms a full year of discussions as final decisions on the proposals wouldn’t come until the AGM in June 2017, and fans’ thoughts will come into play via various consultations in that time.

Further headline comments up for discussion are the possibility of a winter break, and the Community Shield curtain raiser could also be scrapped, and of course it’s widely open for debate on how this would impact the National League itself with the Football League needing to find a number of new professional clubs quickly to complete League Three.

There is the potential for League Three to also see Premier League B teams to enable youngsters to gain far more professional game time when compared to Under 21 level matches – and of course the emergency loan window ceases to exist next season as well.

It could also see FA Cup matches moved into midweek with those spots now naturally being more open as an alternative to scrapping replays, or alternatively an end to replays in any event as referenced above.

For the Premier League, it could also see a potential free up of congestion when it came to Cup games also which would be a benefit they are seeking, and would then impact on midweek/weekend games of their own accord.

Fans of National League clubs – the questions it would ask there are very open ended.