10:25AM, Friday 10 April 2020
Slough Town boss Neil Baker hopes the Football Association (FA), English Football League (EFL) and National League will consider his radical idea for relieving some of the financial pressures on football clubs during this challenging time.
The Rebels boss believes now is the perfect time to promote all National Premier sides to League 2 and then split the fourth level of English football into a north and south league.
The proposal would regionalise football up to League 1 and relieve some of the financial pressures felt by clubs in League 2, as well as at the top levels of non league football.
The idea, he says, would reduce the unnecessary weekly outlay of clubs on travel up and down the country, overnight hotel stays and food costs while boosting revenue by providing clubs with bigger local games which would attract larger crowds.
The idea has been gaining traction online, with Sky's Soccer Saturday host Jeff Stelling tweeting: “Been suggesting regionalisation for ages Neil.
“Makes sense more than ever now.”
Baker doesn’t think the idea will come to fruition, at least not in the short term, but he hopes football people ‘further up the food chain’ will consider his proposal.
“It’s got to the stage now where National League sides and League 2 sides are very similar in ability,” he said. “You often see National League sides go up to the league and do really well, while League 2 often struggle when they come down to the National League and don’t jump straight back up.
“And with all the problems clubs are going to face financially, it just makes sense to me to cut down all the travelling, overnight stays, the hotels cost a fortune, you need food for two days.
“All those things, which by regionalising it again would effectively cancel a lot of the costs.
“You’d also have closer games and therefore more rivalries, bigger crowds and therefore bigger incomes.
“What it also does is it stops non league football for this season. All those legal challenges the FA might be facing, they wouldn’t really need because sides will have gone up a level because of the way the league is restructured.”
Baker’s plan would also see National Leagues in the north and south feeding clubs into the football league. It’s a novel suggestion, but in this time of potential crisis for clubs at all levels, radical solutions could be needed to protect the future of the game.
He explains: “It works really nicely because four sides already come down from League 1 so you can have two go up from the EFL 2 North and South (champions and play-off winners).
“It keeps it interesting for clubs in those leagues, and then you’ll have two going down from each of the EFL 2 North and South leagues and two teams coming up from both the National League North and South.
“I think they’ve just got to do something. If you look at the balance sheets for every League 2 and National League side there wouldn’t be many clubs that are turning a profit.
“So I would have thought that the majority of them are in debt.
“Therefore the Pyramid needs to be looked at and this is a good way of regionalising it and making life easier for a lot of clubs.
“More local derbies also equals more income. If you’re Maidenhead United and you’re playing at Fylde on a Tuesday night, you might take only 25 people to the game.
“But if Fylde are playing someone within 45 minutes of them there might be an extra 150 fans travelling to the game.
“A lot of fans enjoy the long trips, and I understand that.
“Personally, I would love the opportunity to manage a team in the National League Prem. But I’m thinking of this from a financial point of view.
“Football probably needs to change from the top down, but this would be a good start in my opinion.
“It’s the perfect time because if they made the changes now, they could stop all non league football right now. It would solve a lot of problems but I doubt that it will ever happen.
“If ever there was a time to do this it’s now because there is so much uncertainty in football at the moment.”
The EFL is still hopeful that league seasons can be completed this summer.
A letter was sent to all 72 EFL clubs by chairman Rick Parry on Thursday telling them that no training should resume until at least May 16.
However, Parry is confident the EFL season could be completed within 56 days when it is safe to resume following the coronavirus pandemic.
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