The Football Association have confirmed a change that will affect promotion from Step 5 and relegation from Step 4 across the Combined Counties League, Wessex League and Hellenic League for the 2023/24 season.
For the last couple of seasons, the title winners at Step 5 have been automatically promoted with the runners-up going into an inter-step play-off with a team at Step 4 (Isthmian, Southern League etc). Combined Counties League Premier Division North Egham Town lost their inter-step play-off fixture to Step 4 Merstham at the end of last season.
For 2023/24 that changes with the Step 5 division’s coming into line with all the other levels of the English Football Pyramid.
What change will affect the Combined Counties League, Wessex League, Hellenic League etc then?
As of this coming season, play-offs will be introduced across all Step 5 divisions, replacing the inter-step play-off.
The change removes the last oddity of the English Football Pyramid and aligns the Step 5 divisions with all the other Steps.
For 2023/24, the title winners will be automatically promoted while the teams in second, third, fourth and fifth will go into a play-off with the higher placed side in the semi-final and final pairings having home advantage.
It also means there are only two relegation places now in each Step 4 division across the Isthmian League, Southern League and Northern League.
Generally, play-offs have been welcomed at all levels of the pyramid, especially at Step 5 where only the top team has been promoted in previous seasons.
However, there will be eyes on the FA’s flexibility with dates at the end of the 2023/24 season after the play-off system came in for some serious flack with teams – in some cases – forced to play games night after night to meet the deadline.
Of course, dreadful weather, an overreliance on groudshares and early season fixture scheduling were also part of the problem. Still, the play-offs created an extra dimension that added to the clubs frustrations.