Time, surely, for some sort of change in the way the Conference is formatted?
All of the above are heavy-weights of non-league football. When one also considers Kettering, Histon, Crawley and, now, AFC Wimbledon and Chester in the Conference – all good sides – one can see clearly the challenge Rushden will face in achieving a top-10 finish, let alone a play-off place.
The quality of football in the BSP is not always pretty. Indeed, if it wouldn’t offend one of the newest teams, I would go so far as to describe it as Wimbledon-esque. Yet it is competent, and in the last few seasons the number of “big” teams in the league has increased dramatically. Case in point: this time ten seasons ago the number of Conference teams who had recently (ie, within the precious ten seasons) been in the Football League was four. Today, that number has doubled.
The exploits further up the Football League pyramid after promotion from the Conference of Exeter and Doncaster (and Rushden in the past) and the post-promotion competence of Aldershot, Hereford, Dagenham, Morecambe and Barnet in League 2 show that a good Conference side is not necessarily a bad FL side. The gap in quality between the Football League and Conference is perhaps the smallest such gap between any division in England.
This makes the struggle that clubs like Rushden, Oxford, York, Mansfield, Stevenage and Wrexham endure to escape from this league all the more frustrating. Four teams each season gain promotion from League 2. Three teams gain promotion each season from League 1 and the Championship. Just two teams each year are promoted from the Conference. Surely too small a gap with which to ensure that the best 92 teams England has to offer are in the top four divisions…
Change is needed. I believe the automatic promotion places should be increased to two teams, while the play-off places stretch down to 6th place. The bottom three from League 2 would then be relegated. This would have had the following effect on the BSP this season:
- Cambridge, who gained just two points less than B Albion (and conceded 13 goals less) would have joined the Football League.
- Kidderminster would have made it into the play-offs.
- Grimsby would have been relegated into the Conference alongside Luton and Chester.
None of this is particularly radical… none of this would have dramatic effects on either the Conference or League 2. To be honest I believe that my ideal could be extended further, with three automatic places in the Conference, which would extend the play-off places down to 7thThis is not extreme. This is not foolish, at least I don’t think so. It is just clear that changes need to be made, in order to stop the BSP developing into a quagmire that often has near-fatal financial effects.
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