Is local league football set to change for better – or worse?


- Credit: Archant

The festive period is traditionally the time when the football season reaches its halfway mark and this year it marks the run-in to what is being seen as a major overhaul of football at the lower level.

Collin Goodwin, the East Devon-based aficionado of all things Devon and Exeter Football League, has, for probably more moons than he cares to count, made sure the local league has got its news out into the public domain, and he is not a lone voice in ‘worrying’ just what the future holds for ‘grass roots football’.

He writes: “As we reach the mid point of the season, many clubs will be pondering on what is likely to happen if the projected changes being muted by the Football Association come into effect next season. A number of clubs have attended the various meetings organised by the Devon FA in relation to the restructuring, but as yet nothing has been decided and until they are, then few clubs will have much idea of which divisions they will be playing in the 2019/2020 season. At a higher level, the plan put forward by the FA is for two Step Six divisions, one in Cornwall and one in Devon, organised by the South West Peninsula League, and for three Step Seven divisions, two of which will be in Devon.

“If this does indeed go ahead then it goes without saying that the Devon and Exeter League is likely to see a number of its teams accepted into the new Step Seven divisions.

“This will also affect the other three Devon feeder leagues, South Devon, North and West Devon, and, no doubt, they have the same head-scratching to do.

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“We cannot speak for the other County Leagues, but the Devon and Exeter League will almost certainly have to restructure and it seems very likely that they will need to drop at least one division.

“The league usually tries to operate with 14 teams in any divisions, apart from Premier, which is usually 16, but earlier this season, Division One was sadly reduced to 11 after withdrawals by Cullompton Reserves, Perry Street and Woodbury, so that will also have a knock-on effect.

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“The chances are that next season we could operate with a Premier division, three senior divisions, and four intermediate.

“This is speculation and readers should note this is only the author’s take on what may happen, but clubs should be aware of the changes that might well have to be made.

“The other unknown factor is whether we might lose any of our current teams, but equally whether we can expect new teams to join our ranks.

“There are always comings and goings, but it would be good to see some of the recently disbanded clubs make a return to the fold.

“However, 2019 is likely to be a game-changer for most of our teams and, in the author’s view, tinged with a little sadness on the way things are heading.

“There has to be progress and change is bound to happen, but it is sad to see the four Devon feeder leagues being slowly diminished after over a century of dominating grassroots football throughout the county.

“Remember, the Devon and Exeter League or East Devon Senior League, as it was when it started out, was where Exeter City and Tiverton Town began their footballing lives and also where Torquay United enjoyed some early years. It is also where other big Devon football names such as Barnstaple Town and Bideford have graced our paths over this time.”

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