Making promotion mandatory is likely to be an avenue that will be explored in the coming years, according to Laurence Jones, the FA’s head of league and club services.
Clubs refusing to accept promotion is a major issue across the game, most notably in the Northern League where only three clubs – Darlington 1883, Durham City and Spennymoor Town – have moved up into the Evo Stik in the last nine years.
This has caused the Evo Stik Northern Premier League to shift further south towards the Midlands for its clubs at step four. The FA are looking into the possibility of a Midland League at step three and four which may “eradicate some of the challenges” in that particular situation.
Regarding the prospect of clubs being forced to accept promotion, Mr Jones told Non League Yorkshire: “I think that is a debate to be had, there is no fixed view on that at all.
“I think there has to be an acknowledgement in the game that if you are part of a pyramid, then you should take promotion if you win a league. If you finish as a champion club of a Division and you go into a season to have that aspiration to be successful then you should take that promotion.
“I would like to see it (clubs forced to accept promotion) happen, absolutely. My personal view is that for the National League system to work in its purest sense, clubs who finish in promotion positions are promoted, clubs who finish in relegation positions are relegated.
“In terms of writing it down in regulation, allowing for the variances of club sustainability and ground grading, to get to that position in two years’ time…I think that is a reasonable aspiration.
“We have also to find solutions to make it more accessible for clubs to take promotion.
“It is a very easy to say this is what we want, but we have to understand the impact for these clubs. As the volunteer chairman for the step five clubs, I understand the challenges.”
The issue of travelling has also come to the fore recently with the furore over Cinderford deciding to turn down promotion – leading to Evesham being briefly placed in the Evo Stik Division One South, despite being Worcestershire-based. Cinderford have since been told to accept promotion.
The Stocksbridge Park Steels manager Chris Hilton recently said he felt that 90 miles should be the furthest that a club should be forced to travel.
Mr Jones believes that the idea is unfeasible.
“I don’t think it is something we will look to implement because it is very difficult to set them parameters because we are looking at a National League system,” he said.
“You don’t know at the start of each season which clubs are going to get relegated or promoted so setting those parameters may not be possible to deliver because it depends on the geographical split.
“I think the right solution is identifying what is the best structure for the National League system to keep travel to reasonable levels. I have total sympathy with clubs. I absolutely understand some of the challenges presented by long journeys, particularly in midweek.
“It would be nice to have a guarantee to control mileages. In reality it can’t happen.”
Wembley-based Mr Jones is also responsible for various other services, including refereeing at grassroots level and the England C. He has recently helped to oversee a full-scale review of grounds at step six (NCEL Division One) across the country.
The NCEL have come out of it with flying colours.
“The Northern Counties East League and its member clubs should be very proud of what they have achieved at step five and step six,” he said.
“Particularly at step six, to have all the clubs fully compliant with ground grading is a fantastic achievement. The league should be really proud of that.”