STEPS 5/6 LEAGUES FOCUS GROUP
17:11 15 Jun 12
THE FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION
STEPS 5/6 LEAGUES FOCUS GROUP
NOTES OF A MEETING HELD ON
MONDAY 11 JUNE 2012
AT THE FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION OFFICES
WEMBLEY STADIUM, WEMBLEY, LONDON, HA9 0WS
COMMENCING AT 11.00AM
Present: Messrs D Morrall – Northern Counties East League (Chairman), P Burns – Spartan South Midlands League, K Clarke – Western League, M Joiner – Midland Football Alliance, Ms Denise Richmond - Kent League and Mr D Tomlinson – North West Counties League.
Mr P R Bentley was attending as a representative of the Leagues Committee.
Messrs M Appleby, K Brown, L Jones (attended up to Note 132), B Walden (attended up to Note 135) and Mrs P Kift.
The Notes from the meeting of the Focus Group held on Tuesday 1 May 2012 were received and confirmed.
131. MATTERS ARISING
(a) United Counties League (Notes 119(b), 120(b), 122, 123, 124 & 125 – 1 May 2012)
Correspondence from the league was considered raising a number of matters which were answered as follows:-
(i) Note 119(b) – Mr B Walden advised that permission was currently being sought through the appropriate FA Committee for the co-option of a Step 5 representative to the Leagues Committee. It was anticipated that the representative would have voting rights but that this person would be a named representative and could not be replaced by another individual if they were unable to attend the meeting. It was hoped that a response to the request would be received by the meeting in July.
(ii) Note 120(b) – It was noted that the office had sought clarification from Mr M Pover, National Facilities Manager, on the question raised and would advise the league of this response when received.
(iii) Note 122 – It was noted that the matter had been referred to the Ground Grading Technical Panel who were to meet on 22 June. However, it was noted that similar issues had been raised at other clubs within Step 5 leagues also. It was agreed that the wording needed to be more specific as to what a bound material was. It was raised whether Steps 5/6 leagues needed to have a representative on the Technical Panel to provide their input. Mr K Brown suggested that the Step 5 leagues needed to have a collective view and agree what amendments they wished to recommend to the Technical Panel.
It was agreed to include this on the agenda for the meeting in July to consider establishing a Sub Committee to consider the amendments required to the document.
(iv) Note 123 – The comments in the first paragraph were noted. The Chairman tabled schedules of the leagues at Steps 5/6 and the number of clubs meeting Grades currently for information. The Chairman agreed to circulate a copy of the lists to all leagues. It was noted that this information was based on the self assessment by leagues and was not taking into account the gradings now taking place by The FA at Step 5.
(v) Note 124 – Mr Walden advised that he envisaged the Steps 5/6 Focus Group would become the body that would be consulted on the movements at Step 5, in a similar way to the Steps 1 to 4 leagues through their club allocation meeting. The Focus Group would make recommendations to the Leagues Committee.
The Chairman stressed that the clubs and leagues at Step 5 needed to be aware that as part of the National League System there would be lateral movements across the System to accommodate a geographical balance when required. Clubs participating at the higher levels of the National League System accepted this principle, but clubs and leagues further down needed to be aware that this could happen in the future.
(vi) Note 125 – Members discussed in detail the funding required to be input by leagues to operate referee assessment schemes for Supply Leagues and noted that the Contributory Leagues had the schemes funded entirely by The FA. In order to be able to make accurate comparisons more information was required on whether leagues were paying the same mileage rates, etc. The Chairman agreed to contact the leagues to obtain further information and to ask the leagues to pass the request on to the appropriate person within the league dealing with these matters. Members were advised that there was a possibility that Mr N Barry, Head of Senior Referee Development, would be attending the meeting of all leagues in July.
(b) FA Initiatives – Shared Access Floodlight Programme (Note 120(b) – 1 May 2012)
Mr K Clarke asked whether funding under the scheme was yet available. It was noted that an expression of interest form was available via The FA’s website where clubs could indicate their interest in funding as it was thought that funding was not available until September. It was noted that Mr Pover would be attending the meeting of all leagues in July to provide an update on the funding available to clubs.
(c) Requirement for Floodlights Moving from Step 7 to Step 6 (Note 129(b) – 1 May 2012)
Mr M Appleby, Leagues & Clubs Manager, again reiterated the need to agree the position regarding floodlighting and the policy leagues wished to adopt with clubs joining from Step 7.
132. INSURANCE UPDATE
Mr L Jones, Senior National Game Business Support Manager, attended the meeting to provide an update. He thanked all the leagues that had responded to his correspondence and advised that he intended to formally assess the responses in July, however early indications were that there was interest from leagues for a National League Scheme, although not mandatory, or at least a desire for minimum standards to be set for each Step of the System. If appropriate a tender document would be put together and issued to the companies in the insurance market.
Members were also advised that correspondence had been issued to County Football Associations recently with an update on insurance and that this letter included a paragraph which strongly recommended that they do not mandate clubs at this level to take out their insurance as it may not be providing appropriate cover.
A number of questions and issues surrounding insurance matters were discussed. The Chairman thanked Mr Jones for attending and providing an update. It was agreed to await further information in due course.
133. STEPS 5/6 REVIEW
Members received a copy of the final report that had been presented to the Leagues Committee in May from the Steps 5/6 Review Group.
Ms D Richmond sought clarification on whether the recommendations had been agreed or whether the Focus Group could make any changes to the recommendations put forward. Mr Walden advised that the recommendations and principles had been accepted by the Leagues Committee however there could be changes to the application of those principles. Background was provided by Mr Walden on the recommendation to increase the Step 3 divisions and the Isthmian League Step 4 divisions to 24 clubs each.
The Chairman advised Members that he had invited Mr P R Bentley to attend the meeting as a Member of the Leagues Committee and also a Step 5 League Chairman to be able to put his perspective to the discussions that took place at the May Leagues Committee meeting. Mr Bentley provided his views.
Ms Richmond stated that when she had read the press release she was thoroughly disheartened and disappointed. She was unsure how a review of Step 5 had ultimately lead to an increase in clubs to benefit the Steps 3/4 leagues. Mr D Tomlinson expressed his concerns and reminded Members that he had been given an assurance that other divisions would not increase to 24 clubs as the Conference National Division had. He also stated that the North West Counties League had repeatedly offered to provide a second promoted club in exchange for a relegated team from the Northern Premier League. Mr Clarke advised that the view being expressed was that the recommendations relating to ground grading was a foul means of reducing the 14 leagues down to 12 leagues. It was stated that this was not the intention at all, but that the Group had listened to the overwhelming response from clubs and leagues that they wished to remain at 14 leagues. However it was also pointed out that the Grade F was the National Ground Grading Requirement at Step 5 and that clubs should be meeting it.
Messrs P Burns and M Joiner highlighted the need to consider the impact of taking extra clubs from Step 5. Mr Joiner stated that the leagues had given a lot of their best clubs up to Step 4 in recent years and time was now needed to rebuild and consolidate. Mr Walden stated that the Review Group had not yet considered Step 6 but that movement of clubs between Steps 7 to 6 needed to be addressed and that Step 5 leagues needed to work collectively for the benefit of this level of the game.
Relegation and the procedures of reprieving clubs and not relegating if vacancies exist within the league was discussed. One of the recommendations had been that the bottom placed clubs in all divisions at Steps 1 to 5 should be relegated regardless of vacancies occurring. Members agreed that promotion should take place in front of relegated clubs being reprieved.
Each of the recommendations from the Leagues Committee was considered in turn and the views of the Group agreed to be fed back as follows:-
(a) “That the process of reducing Step 5 leagues from 14 to 12 was deemed unworkable and the Review Group wished to withdraw the initial suggestion.” The Focus Group agreed with this recommendation.
(b) “That, in order to continue to compete at Step 5 of the National League System, ALL clubs must meet the National Ground Grading Category F in FULL by 31 March 2013. Clubs that do not meet these requirements WILL be relegated to an appropriate Step 6 division/competition. In addition all Leagues must fully comply with the Regulations for the Establishment and Operation of the National League System, Standardised Rules and National Ground Grading Document.” The Focus Group agreed with this recommendation.
(c) “That all Step 5 divisions must have a minimum of 20 clubs with a maximum of 22 clubs from the commencement of season 2013/2014.” The Focus Group agreed with this recommendation.
(d) “That the Leagues Committee would, in future, manage the promotion/relegation process between Step 5 and Step 6 and that as from the end of season 2012/2013 clubs would be placed into “feeder pools” and allocated the most appropriate geographical division.“ The Focus Group agreed with the principle of this recommendation provided that there would be a consultation process with movements agreed by the Leagues Committee in conjunction with the Focus Group.
(e) “That, with effect from Season 2013/2014, the Premier Divisions of the Isthmian, Northern Premier and Southern Football Leagues (Step 3) be increased to 24 clubs.” Members were not in favour of this recommendation and expressed their reservations at the impact this would have on Steps 5, 6 and 7 and whether this structure could be sustained. There was also the view that this would make achieving recommendation (c) above more difficult due to the requirement for additional clubs from Step 5.
(f) “That, with effect from Season 2013/2014 and in order to create 14 relegation places at Step 4, the Isthmian League Division 1 North and Division 1 South (Step 4) be increased to 24 clubs with each relegating 3 clubs to Step 5, subject to any club issues arising during or after the completion of the playing season.” After discussion, Members agreed to express dissatisfaction at the inevitability of this recommendation.
(g) “It was further agreed that discussions should take place with all leagues from Steps 1 to 6 to look at the possibility that, regardless of any vacancies occurring, the club finishing in the bottom positions in divisions at Steps 1 to 5 in the NLS will be relegated.” Members agreed to accept the principle, but only if these were the procedures to be applied across all Steps and not just at Steps 5/6.
134. TRANSFER WINDOW – FIFA STATUTES
Mr Walden advised Members that according to the FIFA Statutes the transfer window should apply to all football involving contract players. However The FA had taken the stance that this would only apply to National Competitions.
The FA had therefore not been complying fully with the FIFA statutes introduced 8 years ago and this had been investigated by FIFA over the past two years. FIFA’s response following this investigation was received in January which stated that from Season 2014/15 whatever, Statutes are in place at that point, The FA will be expected to comply fully. Mr Walden advised that The FA had now amended the Standard Code of Rules used by leagues at Step 7 and below to state that no contract players would be allowed to play at these levels.
However he was concerned with the impact on Steps 5/6 and whether it would be an option to amend the Rules similarly. Therefore he advised that there was a requirement over the next few months to ascertain from each of the leagues at Steps 5/6 the number of contract players registered in Season 2011/12 to gain an understanding of the impact and an idea of why the players had been placed on contract (i.e. because they believed the player could be signed for a professional club, the club wished to stop the player playing Sunday football, etc).
It was agreed that each Member of the Focus Group would liaise with the leagues they represent to obtain the information which could then be forwarded to the office.
135. GROUND GRADING
The Chairman referred to the schedules he had tabled of leagues at Steps 5/6 and the Grades clubs currently had achieved. It was noted that this information was based on the self assessment by leagues and was not taking into account the gradings now taking place by The FA at Step 5. It was noted that 66 clubs at Step 6 did not currently meet the grading requirements. It was the general opinion that it would be unfair to reduce the grading requirements for Step 6 now as it would not be fair on those clubs that had achieved the requirements.
A number of general principles were discussed. It was agreed as a broad principle that leagues at Step 5 should have one, or in some cases two, Step 6 divisions attached to them. The number of clubs in ground share arrangements at Steps 5/6 was discussed. Members agreed that they were in favour of ground share arrangements.
Discussion ensued regarding the requirement for clubs moving from Step 7 to Step 6 to install floodlights. It was agreed to put forward to the meeting of all leagues in July that the following conditions be accepted for clubs being promoted to Step 6 that needed to install floodlights:-
• The club must have full planning permission agreed and in place by 31 March in the season they wish to gain promotion.
• The club must submit proof that they have submitted funding applications however it was acknowledged that these would not be processed until promotion had been confirmed.
• That the club be given until 30 September in the season they gain promotion for the floodlights to be installed and fully operational.
• If the club did not comply with this requirement penalties may be imposed at the discretion of each league and they would be classed as a relegated club at the end of the season and be relegated regardless of any vacancies arising.
Mr Clarke asked what the process would be if a club in their league had visited a ground in another league and were of the opinion that it did not meet the grading requirements. Mr Appleby advised that the club would need to write into the office but must provide detailed reasons.
The situation of reserve teams in the National League System was discussed. It was noted that currently at Step 7 the criteria stated that a league should have no more than 25% reserve teams in their Step 7 division and that at Step 5 no new reserve teams were permitted. After discussion it was agreed that there should be a maximum requirement of 10% reserve teams in any Step 6 division.
136. THE FA VASE COMPETITION
The Chairman suggested that the leagues needed to find ways to try and increase interest in the Competition and increase attendance at the Final to ensure that this would continue to be staged at Wembley Stadium. He asked that all leagues give this matter some thought.
137. STEP 7
There was concern that some Step 7 leagues did not complete their fixtures until the last Saturday in May. It was agreed to ask the Step 7 leagues if they could complete all fixtures the week after the Steps 5/6 leagues, ie by the first Saturday in May.
Mr Appleby asked the opinion of leagues to the resurrection of the Joint Liaison Committee meetings and whether they would see any benefit in it. Members agreed that this would be a positive step forward.
138. MEETINGS WITH COUNTY FOOTBALL ASSOCIATIONS
The Chairman advised Members that following on from the example set by the North West Counties League, the Northern Counties East League had recently met with 5 out of their 7 County FAs to discuss a number of matters such as Senior Cups, dates of cup competitions, disciplinary matters, insurance, etc. He stated that the meeting had been extremely useful and they would be looking to arrange this on an annual basis. He suggested that these type of meetings could also benefit other leagues.
It was agreed that the meetings should be arranged through The FA and that the Chairman or Chief Executive and Member of the Football Development staff would be the most appropriate to invite. It was agreed that meetings arranged towards the start of the Season would be the ideal time.
139. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
(a) Step 7 Review
Mr Appleby reported that the Leagues Committee would be considering at its meeting the following day the Step 7 league structure for Season 2012/13. Further information would be distributed to leagues in due course.
The meeting closed at 2.55pm.