Joint-Gorleston boss Daniels’ delight after FA scrap Step Five reorganisation plans
Controversial plans by the FA to reorganise local football have been scrapped – saving some Norfolk clubs potentially huge and unwanted travelling costs.
The make-up of the Eastern Counties (Ridgeons) Premier Division looked set to be ripped apart after the FA announced their desire to reduce the number of Step Five leagues in the country from 14 to 12 from the 2012/13 season.
However, the FA's review group completed a dramatic U-turn yesterday by admitting that after holding a series of nationwide consultation meetings, the changes have been deemed 'unworkable'.
It now means the Eastern Counties League, set to be re-named the Thurlow Nunn League next season, will remain in it's current guise for the foreseeable future.
Gorleston joint-manager Richard Daniels admits he originally had mixed feelings about the proposed changes but is now delighted a decision has been made.
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He said: 'My initial feeling when I heard the news was one of relief. Financially and geographically the decision can only benefit Gorleston Football Club.
'We would have given a new league a go for a year as a management team but the committee weren't as keen about it on a financial side of things. The distances would have made it difficult.
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'Once initial plans had been discussed there was a certain buzz among the management and players about the different challenge it could bring. We'd be looking at playing new teams and visiting new grounds. 'However, a lot of clubs at our level are struggling and I wouldn't want to do anything to put our club in any jeopardy. In sport the financial side of things are looking bleak and the cost of petrol and such is hurting clubs already.'
Original proposals suggested 14 teams, including Wisbech Town and Diss Town, would join 10 United Counties Premier Division in a new look 'Eastern Division'.
While some clubs supported original proposals many, including Gorleston and Kirkley & Pakefield, were thought to be against them.
While clubs and county football associations across the country continued to meet to discuss the matter the Eastern Counties League submitted an 'alternative suggestion' to the FA.
Their plans looked set to replace 64 new matches in the proposed league that would contain round trips in excess of 200 miles.
ECL Secretary Nigel Spurling said the league would remain 'neutral' because some clubs were 'in favour of planned changes' while some others 'were not'.
Greens' chief Daniels insists that even though some clubs were marginally suited to the changes geographically, all will be delighted the ECL will remain.
He said: 'Nobody will be disappointed by this news I'm sure. The Ridgeons League is a good standard and the clubs know that. Personally we worked hard to get into the Premier Division and we feel we belong here now we've stayed up.
'Now the plans have been scrapped we can get players in place and start preparing for next season. I won't need to be worrying about getting a side for midweek games in London, or wherever, anymore either.'
All clubs playing at Step Five must now ensure they meet the National Ground Grading Category F in full by 31 March next year or face relegation.
Recommendations from the FA also include ensuring all Step Five divisions must have a minimum of 20 clubs, with a maximum of 22, before the start of the 2013/14 season.
Changes further up the pyramid, which could affect higher-level sides like recently-promoted Wroxham, have been put in place to ensure 14 relegation places are created at Step Four.
This would end the current end-of-season minefield where 14 Step Five champions only have 12 promotion slots available to them.
In future seasons, consideration will be given to clubs like King's Lynn Town – runners-up in the UCL this season – who will be promoted, provided they meet the entry criteria for Step Four and no other side in the division has gone up.
Many UCL clubs have announced their delight at the shock news after fronting a strong campaign to save the future of their league.
Chairman John Weeks said: 'The League wish to thank all concerned for their united support against those initial suggestions.
'We have had overwhelming support from many within the FA and other county FAs, other leagues and clubs, national and local press, MPs and many other individuals and organisations.
'Leagues at Step Five can now focus on their future with the knowledge that our voice has not only been heard but acted upon.'