Teams in the lower reaches of the English Football Pyramid face an arduous challenge to complete their 2022/23 seasons with hard cutoffs now in place thanks to end-of-season play-offs.
The addition of Play-Off matches at Step 5 and Step 6 of the pyramid is the latest attempt by the Football Association (FA) to standardise football across the country, making it fairer for all and removing loopholes and regional quirks.
Adding more divisions from Step 3 down is one of the reasons the North West no-longer has a stranglehold on the FA Vase competition with a bottle-neck keeping ambitious clubs down, and this should be applauded.
But the tightening of ground grading, increased division sizes at Step 6, plus now the addition of play-offs, means there’s no room for manoeuvre in terms of season length in the chaotic world of non-league football.
Non-League by it’s nature is chaotic. Run by volunteers in the majority, doing their best. The weather has its say, as does pitch availability.
Clubs with their own grounds like Finchampstead have been replaced by others ground-sharing with teams above them in the pyramid. Really, at Step 6 what was wrong with the Memorial Ground?
At one point in recent seasons, there were three teams playing out of Slough Town’s Arbour Park – the Rebels, Chalvey Sports and Langley.
That makes it harder and harder for League fixture secretaries to schedule games. It’s why fixture releases get later and later every summer as each Step waits for the Step above to release theirs.
There are teams like Yateley United who have been able to develop a superb facility of their own, but then you have others who by their very nature are somewhat nomadic like Berks County. There’s room in the pyramid for all of these clubs but there are to many restrictions.
With the addition of Play-Offs at all levels, there is no room for cup runs, replays or the Great British weather.
Wake me up when it stops raining.
The inter-Step playoff between Step 4 and 5 is supposed to be on 29th April. The Step 6 playoffs are supposed to be completed by the end of April.