Norfolk clubs warned to improve facilities or face relegation
Several established Norfolk football clubs face a race against time and bills of thousands of pounds to upgrade their facilities or risk the prospect of demotion regardless of what they achieve on the pitch this season.
The Anglian Combination Premier Division's Step Seven status in the football pyramid has been suspended while clubs battle to meet strict new standards regarding showers, toilets and changing rooms demanded by the FA by March 31.
Ten of the 16 clubs currently playing at Anglian Combination top flight level fall short of meeting requirements which include separate changing rooms, toilets and showers with a minimum of three shower heads for each team, as well as toilets and a suitably-sized changing room for match officials.
Anglian Combination secretary Keith Johnson said health and hygiene was at the heart of the FA directive with clubs nationwide being ordered to come into line.
'I think the clubs all recognise and we as a league recognise that these standards are desirable and we support the FA. It's the timescale that we question but the clubs are getting on with it.'
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He added: 'Some are able to move quicker than others. Some clubs don't own their grounds and changing rooms and some will need to get planning permission for the work depending on what they want to do.'
'We are hoping that all clubs will meet the deadline but the FA have given us a little bit of leeway in as much as if we can get 75 per cent of the clubs compliant we will get an extension of another year.'
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In theory a club could win the league but still end up being relegated or in another scenario the league could lose its Step Seven status – the first rung on the ladder which leads to the Football League – and the prestige and funding it attracts all together. In order to achieve promotion Division One clubs will also need to meet the criteria.
'It is possible that clubs who cannot comply will cease to be members of the Premier Division but the indications are that all clubs will comply. If they don't we will have to look at that situation at the time. There are so many options that it is difficult to say what we would go for,' said Johnson, admitting that the deadline of March 31 – when the season is still coming to the boil – was not helpful.
'We welcome the FA initiative to get these standards. It is just the time allowed that we question. I don't think the March 31 deadline is helpful but we had no input. It was an FA condition that could not be challenged.'
An audit of Premier Division club facilities was carried out by the league's ground standards officer Ray Youngman and Norfolk FA's football development officer Gavin Lemmon, who visited each club in August and a meeting was held with the Premier Division clubs at Norfolk FA HQ last month. An audit of the Division One clubs - who will need to achieve the standards in order to be promoted - is currently being undertaken.
According to the Premier Division audit Acle United, Blofield, Cromer Town, Hempnall, Loddon United, North Walsham Town, Norwich St Johns, Sheringham, Spixworth and Wells failed to meet the new requirements although Wells have since passed by providing a suitable cabin for match officials.
Beccles Town, Mattishall and Wymondham Town passed while Ridgeons League clubs Kirkley and Pakefield and Wroxham, whose reserve teams play in the Anglian Combination Premier Division, were exempt.
'At the moment there is no reason why 75 per cent of the clubs cannot achieve the standard by the deadline although it's going to be difficult for a couple of clubs to get to March 31 with all works complete,' said Lemmon, who is offering help and advice in all areas including grant aid.