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Non-league clubs at Step 4 to enter play-offs at top and bottom of divisions while play-offs introduced at Step 6 as promotion and relegation revamped across National League System by FA



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Semi-professional clubs in Suffolk and across the country will enter the 2021/22 season with a revamped format for promotion and relegation across the National League System (Steps 1-6).

Arguably the biggest change will be seen for clubs competing in Step 4 (i.e Isthmian League North Division) and Step 5 (i.e. Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division) as some will meet for a chance to determine if a team will be replaced in pyramid in a survival/promotion shootout to conclude campaigns. There will also be promotion play-offs introduced for Step 6 leagues (i.e. Thurlow Nunn League First Division North & South).

At Step 3, for Needham Market, Leiston and Lowestoft the promotion picture will remain unchanged, with two going up, one automatic and one via a four team play-off competition.

The FA has changed the structure of promotion and relegation in the National League System ahead of a ball being kicked in 2021/22 Picture: Barry Goodwin
The FA has changed the structure of promotion and relegation in the National League System ahead of a ball being kicked in 2021/22 Picture: Barry Goodwin

But the chance of being relegated will be increased with four, instead of two, forming an automatic relegation zone per division.

At Step 4, the likes of AFC Sudbury, Bury Town, Felixstowe & Walton United, Soham Town Rangers and now Stowmarket Town, would be the subject of the same promotion format – two up, one through four team play-offs – but there will be changes to the relegation structure.

From this season there will be two teams automatically (instead of the one earmarked for 2020/21) and the two above them – finishing third and fourth from bottom – will then face a one-off home survival play-off game each against a runner-up from a Step 5 league.

Fans at grounds such as AFC Sudbury will be watching teams compete to get in one set of play-offs but stay clear of another set! Picture: Mark Westley
Fans at grounds such as AFC Sudbury will be watching teams compete to get in one set of play-offs but stay clear of another set! Picture: Mark Westley

The FA have released details to the leagues that terms this new format as 'Inter-Step Play-off Matches'.

In the document on it states: "The conditions of Inter-Step Play Off Matches (such as the criteria of how ties are drawn, associated financial matters, extra time, and player eligibility) will be confirmed by the Committee nearer the time.

"Ties will be a one-off match with the winner being allocated to Step 4 for the following Playing Season and the defeated Club being allocated to Step 5 for the following Playing Season."

At Step 5 there will still be one team automatically promoted while the second-placed side, providing they meet the necessary promotion grading criteria, will go forward for a one-off away match against either a third or fourth from bottom Step 4 side for a shot at replacing them. If they do not meet the required grading, the team below them would qualify, and so on down to and including seventh. The same will apply for league winners.

"Where a Club finishes in 1st position but does not meet the criteria for promotion to the next Step, the Club finishing in 2nd position shall be promoted and the Club finishing in 3rd position (and so on) shall be the Club in the next eligible position to take part in the Play Off Matches," the document states.

"Where a Club finishes in a Play Off Position but does not meet the Criteria for participation in Play Off Matches, the Club finishing in the next eligible position shall take part in the Play Off Matches."

There will also be an increased chance of relegation for sides, going up from one 'potential' relegation spot in 2020/21 (12 bottom-placed finishes were due to be demoted from 14 leagues after ranking them on points-per-game) to two automatically relegated.

In Step 6 leagues, which had four automatic promotion spots ahead of the recent non-league re-structure, there will be two promotion places, one automatic and one by a four team play-off competition.

At the other end of the tables the bottom three sides will be 'liable to relegation', dependent on whether there are enough feeder teams to replace them.

The document explains how reprieves would work as follows: "The final number of Clubs to be relegated will be confirmed once promotion candidates from Feeder Leagues and any vacancies are known.

"If reprieves are required the Clubs 3rd from bottom will be ranked on a points per match basis (then goal difference, then goals scored if required) – the Club(s) with the best points per match will be reprieved.

"If all 3rd from bottom Clubs are reprieved, and a further reprieve(s) is required, the same process will apply for Clubs 2nd from bottom (and so on)."

There is also a caveat that should a club refuse to play in an end-of-season play-off game in the new format, or win a league and refuse promotion, they will be relegated down a level from which they had just played in. At Step 6 level this would be subject to an eligible feeder club being available to replace them in the National League System.

* What do you make of the changes? Comment below.

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