3rd March 2020 - Secretary discusses changes for next season
MARCLIFF Gloucestershire County League secretary Ron Holpin welcomed an array of applicants to the popular Step 7 competition next season but stressed: "It’s a very uncertain picture at this time."
Cribbs Reserves and Shaftesbury Crusade are two from the Bristol Premier Combination league bidding to enter, whilst Avonmouth, Filton Athletic and Stoke Gifford United, all Bristol and Suburban League competitors, have also applied to join.
Gloucestershire Northern Senior League outfits Brockworth Albion, Chalford, Charlton Rovers, Cheltenham Civil Service and Harrow Hill, the latter two former County League members, are also vying for places.
There’s another in the shake-up too – Bristol-based Shirehampton, currently sitting pretty at the head of Uhlsport Somerset County Premier Division, who have applied to the FA for "lateral movement" to the equivalent Gloucestershire league.
Holpin said his league’s rules decreed that if two successfully-placed clubs currently operating at Step 8 level on the football pyramid were "ready to join" with the required ground facility grading granted, two clubs would automatically be relegated from Gloucestershire County League.
As it stands, Patchway Town and Hanham Athletic occupy those two unwanted bottom spots although three more sides above them – Broadwell Amateurs, Ruardean Hill Rangers and 2019-20 newcomers Bromley Heath United – are among others striving to keep the trapdoor threat at bay.
Long-serving County League administrator Holpin also revealed: "There’s to be an end-of-season play-off situation involving three high-ranked teams from the Premier Combination, Suburban League and Northern Senior League, provided they meet the ground grading criteria.
"We currently only have 15 clubs in our league and that creates a vacancy as the league plans to operate with 16 clubs next season.
"It could be that Shirehampton, who have applied for a sideways switch to our league, could fill that space although their facilities would still require inspection under the ground grading criteria.
"Promotion and relegation issues have to be decided, however, before any vacancy issues are dealt with."
"Alternatively we could see a team dropping down from a Step 6 league and making up the numbers in the County League. Less likely, but possible, you could have all three teams involved in these end-of-season play-offs in contention to come in.
"As I’ve informed all clubs, though; we really don’t know what will happen. The FA is restructuring its Step 5 and 6 leagues and with league seasons across the board potentially having to be extended because of the bad weather, it’s far too early to speculate.
"With all that uncertainty around we’re unlikely to have a much firmer picture until the end of April."
By then AEK-BOCO, the only County League club to have applied for promotion to Step 6 level, will know more of their likely fate although they have much work to do between now and the campaign’s conclusion if they are to cement the top five place required for potential elevation.