...And a Step 7 Ground?
Although it is yet to be confirmed by official announcement, a Special General Meeting of the Central Midlands League on Wednesday night saw member clubs vote through a proposal to reorganise the competition into a North and South Division next season.
Details remain sketchy at this time but it would appear that both divisions will be at Step 7 with the eventual champions eligible for promotion to the Northern Counties East League (North) and the East Midlands Counties League (South) subject to them meeting the required ground grading criteria.
In short this is a win-win for Easington. For a start we cut down on travelling costs while our eventual aim of progressing to NCEL football is brought one step closer.
But seemingly our enthusiasm isn’t shared by all.
In their immediate response to the decision some posters on the various Non-League boards were quite scathing about how much, or rather how little, information had been made available to the clubs. Interestingly it was pointed out that the motion didn’t have the full backing of the League Management Committee (although it later transpired that this was more to do with members abstaining as they felt the decision should be wholly down to the clubs).
Concerns were also raised about how certain struggling clubs likely to be in the new “South” Division – Bulwell, Welbeck and Thoresby were quoted as examples – would cope when competing with the likes of Forest Town and Sutton Town “who are paying their players”.
Questions were asked about the exact definition of “North” and “South” (the line given was from “Mablethorpe to Chesterfield”) and what say those clubs “on the border” might have in deciding which division they join.
Finally, there was the argument put forward that in light of the recent acceptance of clubs from local County leagues into the NCEL without having to come through a supposed feeder competition (e.g. Sheffield clubs Athersley Recreation and Handsworth FC) the CML is now irrelevant.
It was this part of the argument that got me thinking.
When we decided to “jump ship” and join the CML one of the warnings given to us was that should the Humber Premier League get Step 7 we could be “forced” back into the East Riding to play our football. Furthermore, the fact that we are currently not members of a Step 7 competition (only the CML Supreme Division boasts that status) meant there would be no obligation to restore our HPL Premier Division status on our return. In short we could end up back at a level below that from which we departed. Undeterred we pressed ahead with our move.
To be fair I always thought the talk of the HPL getting Step 7 status appeared somewhat remote given the state of some of the grounds therein when set against the criteria adhered to by would-be members of the CML Supreme Division. Compare South Normanton’s Lees Lane to Malet Lambert School for example!
Lees Lane - would you rather play here or on a school pitch?
Then the new Step 7 criteria guidelines arrived, as announced by the FA. Flicking through them it immediately becomes apparent why the HPL is confident of achieving that level.
In short, the new requirements are hardly a step-up from what was needed to gain us entry into the HPL as founder members in 2000. Indeed, if anything they suggest a lowering of standards, a move backwards.
Take Section 1.4 (Boundary of Ground) “There is no requirement for a ground to be enclosed in any way”. This is a step back from one of the original HPL requirements and to me this is akin to reverting to playing on park and/or school grounds where pitches stand side-by-side with balls whizzing over from all directions during the course of play. Not what we signed up for.
But before getting too worked up about such things it’s worth noting that the Grading Level is a three-tier affair, comprising Step 7, Step 7A & Step 7B. There is a certain percentage of the league’s membership required in order to gain the desired Grading and perhaps that is where the HPL may come up short?
However, even if the Humber Premier League does attain the same level as the CML, I for one am keen to remain where we are. Ever since we entered our new surrounds we have had nothing but encouragement from those in charge as well as our fellow clubs (okay, apart from the comments surrounding our location…or rather the time taken to get there!).
In addition, by setting their own ground grading requirements significantly higher than was necessary, the Central Midlands League has ensured that clubs are well placed to mount an eventual move up to the next stage, Step 6. That is where we would like to be and, thanks to Wednesday’s vote, I believe that dream may have inched just that little bit nearer. Only time will tell...