Why FA’s non league football changes mean double chance of Hellenic Premier Division promotion in 2017/18

TJ Bohane and Lewis Leonetti. Photo: Neil Graham.
TJ Bohane and Lewis Leonetti. Photo: Neil Graham.

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The landscape of the English National League System (NLS) football pyramid looks set to change in the summer of 2018 with two extra divisions added – one at step 3 and one at step 4 the FA have announced.

The change, announced on Monday (see full press release here) will see the Evo-Stik Southern League run a second division at step 3 alongside the existing Southern Premier, Ryman Premier and Evo-Stik Northern Premier bringing the number up to four divisions while the Ryman League will run an additional division at step 4 bringing the division number up to seven.

According to the press release the move is to: iron out geographical anomalies, cut down on travelling costs and time for fans, players and officials and encourage more Step 5 clubs to climb the pyramid.

This will mean an increase of 20 clubs playing at steps 1 to 4 with the current step 3 leagues becoming 22 team divisions (currently 24) and the current step 4 leagues becoming 20 team divisions (currently 22).

Related: How do non league transfers work

This is really good news for step 5

Why? The FA have confirmed that only the bottom sides at step 4 will be relegated at the end of the 2017/18 season meaning an opportunity for 26 sides to win promotion from Step 5 (Hellenic Premier Division level) next season – that’s an increase on the usual 14 of 12 promotion places available.

In short this means that with nearly double the number of places on offer, it’s quite likely that a runners up spot (as Bracknell Town achieved this season) will be enough for promotion to step 4.

It’s important to note that the increase in promotion places from step 5 up to step 4 is at the end of 2017/18 season only to fill the extra two divisions.

Ascot United's James Goodey. Photo: Mark Pugh.
Ascot United and Highmoor-IBIS battle at step 5. Photo: Mark Pugh.

How will they work it out?

Currently, if there is a need for more than 14 promotions from step 5 – should a team higher up fold or choose voluntary demotion like Worcester City have – the team in second place with the best points per game ratio would be next in line.

We would expect that to be the way they the additional 12 teams would be selected and for reference Bracknell had the fourth best points per game ratio of all the step five runners up this season. There’s a handy spread sheet here for anyone interested in looking at it in a bit more depth.

What is the National League System football pyramid?

The NLS pyramid is the league system which oversees and manages all non-league football in this country. The system could in theory see a side in the Thames Valley Premier League (step 7) win promotion right up to the English Premier League.

The confusing part is when you talk about ‘levels’ and ‘steps’.

Levels starts from the Premier League (level 1) right down to level 22 – the bottom local division to us is the Thames Valley Premier Football League Division Four which is level 15.

Steps start at the National League Premier (formerly the Conference Premier) which is level 1 down to step 7 which is the Thames Valley Premier Football League. Ascot United, Bracknell Town, Binfield and Woodley United play in the Hellenic Premier Division (step 5) while Wokingham & Emmbrook, Sandhurst Town and AFC Aldermaston play in the Hellenic League Division 1 East (step 6).

Woodley United vs Wokingham & Emmbrook at Scours Lane. Photo: Mark Pugh.
Woodley United and Wokingham & Emmbrook battle it out at step 6. Photo: Mark Pugh.

Locally the ‘pyramid’ looks like this:

Step 1: National League Premier – Maidenhead United

Step 2: National League South

Step 3: Evo-Stik Southern League Premier – Slough Town

Step 4: Evo-Stik Southern League Division 1 – Thame United won promotion here from the Hellenic League

Step 5: Hellenic Premier – Ascot United, Bracknell Town, Binfield and Woodley United

Step 6: Hellenic Division 1 East -Wokingham & Emmbrook, Sandhurst Town, AFC Aldermaston

Step 7: Thames Valley Premier League – Berks County, Finchampstead

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