English football could be heading for its biggest restructure since the inception of the Premier League in 1992 following proposals to introduce a new ‘League Three’ as the fifth professional division in the domestic game.
The suggestions put forward by the Football League centre on the addition of a new division below League Two to ease fixture congestion, while simultaneously reducing the number of teams in each league from twenty-four to twenty. The abolition of midweek fixtures is also on the agenda as the FA, Football League and Premier League seek new ways to reinvigorate the fortunes of English football.
The changes, which would come in to force for the beginning of the 2019-20 season, would require eight new member clubs to join ‘League Three’, most likely from the National League setup. Other suggestions have been mooted however, including the prospect of Celtic and Rangers joining from the Scottish Premier League, while the idea of Premier League ‘B’ teams has not been totally ruled out.
The plans have been greeted by a mixed level of opposition by both football supporters and the chairmen of League One and Two clubs who face losing eight games worth of their season’s revenue under the new plans. Each side in all three divisions below the Premier League will lose four home fixtures per season, and with finances particularly tight in the lower reaches of the football pyramid, the fear is that a number of football clubs could face the very serious threat of going out of business.
Representatives from the Football League have been quick to assure clubs that there will be no negative financial impact, but with finances already tight and player’s wages at an all-time high, such a move is unlikely to brokered without some degree of monetary compensation. For the proposals to go through, 65 of the current 72 member clubs would have to vote in favour at the Football League’s AGM in 2017 .
Many supporters have already begun the process of dissecting the proposed changes, questioning why such a reshuffle is required when English League football currently appears in good health. Over 180,000 supporters attended the PlayOff finals across all three divisions at Wembley last month, while attendances and quality of football are steadily improving across all tiers from the Premier League, right through to grassroots.
The proposals are the latest in a long line of attempts to reorganise the English game, curiously all focusing on amendments to the Football League rather than the Premier League. Last year, clubs were lobbied about the possibility of introducing B teams into a new League Three. After a furious backlash from clubs, journalists and supporters alike, those proposals were quickly shelved in favour of a potential change to the Football League Trophy – an action which is still being discussed. More recently, the FA has announced that FA Cup Quarter Finals will no longer feature replays to further ease congestion, despite the fact only eight ties at the sixth round stage have required a replay since 2008.
This all serves to highlight an increasingly apparent disparity between the footballing powers that be and regular match going supporters, many of whom are becoming increasingly disenfranchised by yet another unnecessary raft of ugly changes to the beautiful game.