League revamp may hit Yarmouth and Gorleston
Yarmouth Town and Gorleston could be among leading Norfolk non-league football clubs facing major upheaval if reorganisation plans by the FA are approved.
The FA wants to make changes to Step Five of the non-league pyramid – effectively the Ridgeons League Premier Division – which could see Norfolk teams leaving East Anglia and heading into the Midlands to complete their fixtures.
While teams in the west of the region, like Wisbech, would perhaps benefit, there are concerns that east coast outfits such as Great Yarmouth Town, Gorleston and Kirkley & Pakefield would suffer, certainly in financial terms.
The current proposal, which has just entered into the club consultation stage, could see 14 Ridgeons Premier Division teams, including Gorleston, Yarmouth, Dereham Town, Diss, Kirkley & Pakefield, Norwich United, Wisbech and Wroxham placed into a 24-team league along with teams from the United Counties League, including the likes of S&L Corby, Wellingborough Town and Thrapston Town.
The remaining clubs, from the south of the region, would play in a London North East League.
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For Kirkley & Pakefield, the proposal could mean 10 round trips of more than 200 miles – and one of more than 260 miles.
The FA proposal would see the new set-up come into operation for the 2013-14 season – but a senior Ridgeons League official is urging clubs to ensure their voice is heard before any decisions are made.
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The first meeting for clubs was held at Aveley, in Essex, this month, but only five Ridgeons League clubs –Wisbech, Wroxham, Walsham-le-Willows, CRC and Stanway – were represented.
Ridgeons League secretary Nigel Spurling says the organisation was taking a neutral stance, given that some of its clubs would be “winners” and some would be “losers”.
However, he urged clubs to ensure they understood the proposals.
“It is not really for us as a league to argue a case, it is up to the clubs,” he said.
“You may look at Wisbech and consider them winners, while clubs like Kirkley and Yarmouth might be losers, and that is why we cannot come out as a league and either support or not support the proposals.
“There has been one meeting for clubs, there are three more and I would urge clubs to attend.”
Travelling expenses will be a clear bone of contention, with geographical consideration putting East Anglian teams at an immediate disadvantage.
The average away trip for Ridgeons League clubs is currently 99 miles, but that will rise to 121 under the new proposals – although clearly some teams will travel more, some less.
As well as the extra fuel costs, the additional travelling may prove unpopular with players – and expensive for clubs if they have to cover extra expenses.
Paul Tong, current manager of Kirkley & Pakefield and former Yarmouth Town boss, admitted his club would be one of the worst affected.
“It’s the travelling and the reaction of players that will be the most difficult parts of it,” he said.
“I can understand why the FA might want to look at the structure and I understand there will be some clubs who benefit, and some who don’t. It would appear we are among those who have questions.
“Teams like ourselves are trying to keep budgets tight and promote players from within. I understand the logic, but I do think there is a real need for clubs to understand these suggestions.”
Wroxham, Wisbech and Yarmouth may be in different positions; the Yachtsmen and the Fenmen have applied to move up to the next stage of the pyramid should they finish the season in a promotion place while Yarmouth are one of the favourites for relegation – meaning both could have left the Ridgeons Premier when any changes come into effect.