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And we thought we had it tough being geographically on the periphery of the north/south divide.

 

The town of Braintree sits near the border between Suffolk and Essex. It's a

small town with a population of 42,000 which sits rather in the shadow of its

larger neighbours Colchester and Chelmsford, with London looming in the

distance, radiating its influence over the whole of the east and south east of

England. It's not, to coin a cliche, a town of flat caps and whippets, but

external circumstances seem likely to mean that Braintree Town Football Club

will have to switch from the Blue Square South to the Blue Square North next

season. This situation has come about because of a certain lop-sidedness that is

inherent within the non-League. Non-League football is arranged into a pyramid

system, by which the Leagues get more and more regional the further one gets

from the Blue Square Premier.

 

The biggest single flaw in this set up is unavoidable. For example, it seems

likely (if not certain) that three of this year's four relegated Blue Square

Premier clubs will be undeniably southern. Lewes and Woking have already fallen

through the trap door, while Weymouth seem likely to follow them. This means

that one club will have to switch from the BSS to the BSN. Just from looking at

a map, the obvious candidates for this would be Worcester City, but Worcester

only transferred in the opposite direction last year and the Football Conference

has rules which ensure that clubs can't be shunted from north to south every

season.

 

Things aren't quite that simple, of course. This is non-League football, after

all. Team Bath have already resigned from the Blue Square South for the end of

this season, and there may be further resignations to follow if the apocalyptic

predictions over the state of finances in the non-League game are to be

believed. There is still confusion over which team will benefit as a result of

Team Bath's disappearance. It would appear obvious that, in the case of a team

quitting a Division, the third bottom team in that Division (in the case of the

BSS, Thurrock) would be spared the drop. However, the Conference has two

regional Divisions and there has been widespread talk that it will be the team

in the either the BSN or the BSS with the most points that would avoid

relegation, which, at the moment, would be Hyde United of the Blue Square North.

This, of course, would mean more shuffling of the regional packs.

 

The situation has been further complicated still today by news that Kings Lynn

have been - subject to appeal - demoted from the BSN. The Linnets were promoted

at the end of last season and have struggled in their first season in their new

Division amid rumours of unpaid wages. They have narrowly avoided relegation

this season, but have fallen foul of the dreaded Football Conference ground

grading rules and have been demoted. On the one hand, this is somewhat

surprising news. Kings Lynn's The Walk has been host to the second highest

average crowds in the BSN this season - just short of 1000 - and the local

council had promised GBP250,000 to carry out the required remedial work during

the summer, but rules are rules and the rules are that The Walk had to be

started by the start of April, and they hadn't been. This may appear, on the

face of things, to be a harsh rule - after all, it has been safely hosting BSN

football all season - but it is a long time rule (and is in place so that

everybody knows which Division everybody is going to be in at the start of the

summer) and is common knowledge amongst non-League supporters.

 

There are certainly questions to be asked over how a club like Kings Lynn came

to find themselves in this somewhat humiliating situation. As I've already

mentioned the club has the second highest crowds in the League and, moreover,

The Walk is owned by the local council which charges them only a peppercorn rent

for its use. League rules state that newly-promoted clubs are notified of the

work that they need to do in the autumn, so why weren't council (who, it's fair

to say, have been pretty generous in their offer to pay for all of the work

required) notified of the dates by which this work needed to be done earlier?

This demotion will hit the supporters of the club hardest of all but, short of

blaming everyone else apart from themselves, there has been precious little by

way of apology from the people running Kings Lynn Football Club at the time of

writing.

 

Meanwhile, Braintree Town face the possibility of crippling travel costs in the

Blue Square North next season. Amongst the trips that they may have to make will

be Workington in Cumbria and Blyth Spartans in Northumberland. Quite aside from

the cost of travel, they may also find it more difficult to attract players.

Part-time players have jobs that they have to juggle with their football and

some may find it difficult to be able to continue to play for the club. It's

difficult not to have sympathy with the club. Their nearest away match next

season might turn out to be a 240 mile round journey to play Hinckley United.

There is certainly a case for saying that there should be a degree of

flexibility in the size of League where special circumstances allow it. Would it

really be so bad to have a twenty-four club Blue Square South and a twenty club

Blue Square North for a season or two in the hope that this situation can

realign itself.

 

At present, all of this remains conjecture. There are plenty of people that are

saying that this summer will see a grand cull of non-League clubs, which have

been crippled by spiralling wage costs and falling crowds. If anything like this

comes to pass (and I could reel off a list of clubs at this point) the League

tables could end up looking very different before next season even starts, and

every club teetering on the brink has a knock on effect through the Divisions.

Will Team Bath resign from football altogether? Will Lewes go into the BSS or

will they have to drop further down than that? It's not implausible to argue

that there has never been a better time to finish at the bottom of the table. If

you've managed to avoid points deductions, financial mismanagement, regional

reorganisation and the ground grading rules, you'll probably manage to avoid

relegation, even if you don't win any matches.

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