South West Peninsula League CLUBS have received an update on plans to restructure non-League football in the South West.
Plans have been submitted to the FA which would see the Western League and Peninsula League merged from the 2023/24 season.
The Western League Premier Division at the fifth stage would be replaced by two 18-team divisions – one covering Bristol and the ‘north’ area, the other largely covering Devon and Cornwall to the south.
Three divisions would remain at the Step Six level, each containing 18 teams and covering the East, Central and West zones respectively.
The move comes after clubs raised concerns over travel distances in the West League last season, with the longest round trip between Keynsham Town and Mousehole involving a hike of nearly 400 miles.
An overview of the situation so far was given by officials from both leagues at the Peninsula League annual meeting last night in Plymouth.
“The FA Leagues Committee supports this proposal in principle,” said Peninsula League Secretary Phil Hiscox.
“They even said themselves that change will happen. Maintaining the status quo is simply not an option.
“For the first time ever, Devon will have six clubs competing in the Southern League next season. This was made possible by the leagues and authorities that joined the non-league system.
“It hasn’t been without its challenges, especially since there’s more cost involved the higher up the leagues you go.
“This proposal will ensure that the change is structured. It’s not necessarily what the Western League or the Peninsula League would have wanted – they both stand to lose a lot of history – but it is for the greater good of football.
Hiscox added that no club would be forced into promotion, and only those with “ambition, ground standings and league position” would be considered.
He also pointed out that divisions have been limited to 18 teams to ensure lower leagues remain viable, and noted the potential for greater involvement in FA competitions and access to pitch improvement funds. .
Western League chairman John Pool continued: “It is clear that there is no longevity or sustainability in the current structure.” The trip caused problems, to say the least.
“We believe this proposal is the best way forward. This will give clubs an opportunity they haven’t had before. The progression will be there for the clubs that want it.
“It’s an exciting time for us. We have to go through this consultation phase because the proposal cannot be approved until all relevant stakeholders and leagues have been consulted.
Richard Palette, vice-chairman of the Western League, explained: “It is important to remember that this is a merger between equals, not a takeover of one league by the other. .”
“We have the support in principle of the FA and it is not something ‘done’ to us. We have done all the spade work and we will continue to do so.
“October 28 was the first time we had an official meeting with the FA about this.” It’s an old process and certainly not something we just imagined in the parking lot beforehand.
During a short Q&A session, Bovey Tracey club secretary Nigel Call asked when a final decision would be made so clubs know what they are playing for in the 2022/23 season – which starts on August 6.
“We intend that before a ball is kicked in anger next season, clubs know what they are playing for,” Hiscox said.
And Pool added: “We have to talk to all the stakeholders first. Once we get to that stage, we’ll call a league committee to let everyone know.